Today is May 20, 2020, more than two months since we New Yorkers began to stay at home. It’s been a long pause.
Now clarinetist Oran Etkin is helping ease the travel ban with his Open Arms Project, two years and a half dozen trips in the making. Oran is a jazz player who loves traditional music, and his creative strategy is to tour first, then release something new. So he chooses a musical setting, embeds himself in a community, listens and observes, collaborates and documents, and finally comes home to produce a record of what he’s done and plan his next adventure.
It helps that Oran is a gifted listener (when not traveling, he teaches music to children between two and four years of age, using his original storytelling methods in which instruments do the talking). He’s active on multiple social media platforms, and he’s committed to capturing his unique partnerships on video.
The first Open Arms video came out in April. It is “Retirantes,” recorded in Rio de Janeiro in the winter of 2019. The composer is Dorival Caymmi (1914-2008), a founder of Brazilian popular music and the father of Danilo Caymmi. Setting up the Open Arms “Retirantes,” guitarist Davi Mello plays rhythm and Danilo enters on two simultaneous wooden flutes. Oran joins with a high cry on clarinet. Danilo sings the lyric about a hard life (the title means migrants) as “Retirantes” chugs like a distant train and leaves a long instrumental trail for Oran to vamp and swoop over. I think of Hugh Masekela’s “Stimela” about conscripted workers on a coal train.
Brazilian music expert Judith King listened and commented that Danilo is “the youngest of that famous musical family, and the Caymmi fingerprint is indelibly etched into his voice,” a lovely low voice.
The next song in the Open Arms Project, coming May 22, is Dorival Caymmi’s gentle “É Doce Morrer No Mar”/“It’s Sweet to Die in the Sea,” featuring the same trio. Watch it here and stream it here. And next on the itinerary, Oran will take us to Zimbabwe, the Czech Republic, Paris and beyond. One song at a time.
Click on COMMENT at the top of this post to read Oran’s answers to three questions — What have you heard from Brazil about life in the season of the virus? Can you characterize your Open Arms locations with a word or phrase for each? As you can’t tour, what is your new model for making music? Thanks to Oran for the vision, the energy and the music.