cover image Listen to This

Listen to This

Alex Ross, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, $27 (416p) ISBN 978-0-374-18774-3

In this brilliant collection, music critic Ross (The Rest Is Noise) utilizes a wide musical scale—classical music in China; opera as popular art; sketches of Schubert, Bjork, Kiki and Herb—as a way of understanding the world. Featuring mostly revised essays published in the span of his 12-year career at the New Yorker, Ross offers timeless portraits that probe the ways that the powerful personalities of composers and musicians stamp an inherently abstract medium so that certain notes, songs, or choruses become instantly recognizable as the work of a certain artist. The virtuoso performance comes in the one previously unpublished essay, “Chacona, Lamento, Walking Blues,” where Ross isolates three different bass lines as they wind through music history from the 16th-century chacona, a dance that promised the upending of the social order, through the laments of Bach, opera, and finally the blues. Ross nimbly finds the common ground on which 16th-century Spanish musicians, Bach, players from Ellington’s 1940 band and Led Zeppelin’s bassist John Paul Jones can stand, at least momentarily. (Oct.)