Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Jordi Savall Discovers the New World

Virtuoso viola da gamba player and early music maven Jordi Savall needs no introduction to fans of classical music: as a bandleader, soloist, researcher and all-around time traveler, he’s unearthed all sorts of fascinating medieval treasures from Spain to the Middle East. Now, he turns his sights on Latin America with his pioneering new album El Nuevo Mundo: Folias Criollas, a collaboration with Mexican early music adventurers Tembembe Ensamble Continuo, his choir La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Swiss-based ensemble Hesperion XXI and Catalan soprano and early music specialist Montserrat Figueras. Utilizing a museum’s worth of baroque-era guitars and ancient guitar-like instruments along with a chamber orchestra and lush vocal harmonies, Savall and his fellow travelers run through an eye-opening mix of recently rediscovered, little-known early music from Mexico and the Americas dating back as far as the seventeenth century.

As Savall somberly avers in the fascinating, extensive liner notes, all of this music was the soundtrack to genocide: the music of the conquistadors always took precedence over the sounds of the embattled indigenous peoples. Yet cross-pollination is everywhere, even on the earliest works here. Ironically, many of those who worked alongside the conquistadors were outcasts from Spanish society: Jews, heretics and also an element that was considered criminal (but whose only crime may have been running afoul of the Spanish crown). It is therefore unsurprising that they would be more likely to mingle with the locals and become familiar with their music. The conquistadors, predictably, disliked it to the extent they banned it, including at least one and maybe more of the pieces here. All of these are taken from ancient manuscripts, subject to improvisation as was the custom then, with occasional, additional lyrics by Patricio Hidalgo and Enrique Barona of Tembembe Ensamble.

The one-four-five chord progression is everywhere, particularly on the early Mexican son jarocho numbers. Other pieces are folk songs arranged with the ornate harmonies of 1700s Spanish pop opera. The two oldest pieces are a traditional Mexican waltz from around 1650, and an operatically-tinged, bouncy antiphon for chamber ensemble and guitars that may date back as far as 1732. There’s a risque Mexican folk song about “cuckolding the priest,” a metaphorically charged tribute to the joys of green chiles that got a 24-year-old woman tried and probably executed for singing it, and a strikingly complex, contrapuntal Mexican slave song celebrating a fiesta where “we will all be white people tonight.” A couple of seafaring ballads, an operatic lullaby, a richly textured, guitar-orchestra number from Colombia, a bouncy operatic Mexican hymn and pair of Peruvian songs which predate the cumbia revolution by about two hundred years round out the album. It’s a long, strange trip, and absolutely essential for latin music fans. It’s out now on Alia Vox  (distributed by Harmonia Mundi here in the US).

Advertisements

August 19, 2010 Posted by | classical music, folk music, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mission: On Mars Mesmerizes the Gantries

Tuesday night at Gantry Plaza Park in Long Island City, Mission: On Mars transcended the crushing heat, playing a set that was as innovative as it was absolutely psychedelic, outlasting the sunset blazing down on the crowd gathered at the waterfront. Essentially, what they played could be described as live drum ‘n bass improvisations on classical Indian themes. Bandleader Neel Murgai plays sitar, which in this group serves as a sort of rhythm guitar instead of a prominent lead instrument (although he did take a handful of brief, tersely jangling solos). Alongside him was a terrific electric guitarist, a bassist who artfully managed to embellish the band’s extended one-chord vamps, propelled by a funky drummer. Several of their methodically, hypnotically swaying instrumentalists featured incisive solos by a guest mandolinist. Singer Kristin Hoffmann also joined them on a few numbers, belting with a sometimes bluesy intensity that contrasted strikingly with the more pensive, nuanced delivery she typically uses on her own material. Like Man or Astroman, they kicked off several of the numbers with tinny, prerecorded samples from what sounded like old sci-fi films, establishing the otherworldly vibe that would last the entire evening

Because of the presence of the sitar, the band rarely if ever change keys, which gives their jams an even more hypnotic feel. Some of them had a straight-up, slinky, trip-hop beat; others shifted between more tricky time signatures, a couple of them starting out funky and then morphing into a smoother, more sustained ambience, or vice versa. The guitarist moved from a jangle to a joyous roar on his thoughtfully paced solos, while the bass played very cool, minimalist passing tones against the central key. The best song of the night was one of the vocal numbers, Hoffmann wailing over an ominous, percussive, artsy new wave rock vamp that could have been a Siouxsie and the Banshees song circa 1983. Some of the lyrics were in English, some weren’t – as is the case at most outdoor shows like these, the vocals tended to get lost when the band picked up steam. Which wouldn’t have been the case if they’d been working the dance floor inside a club. There’s no band in town who sound remotely like these guys.

August 19, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment