Pieces of Africa / Kronos Quartet
The only string quartet album I’ve ever heard that could double as a party record, this is the most enjoyable CD yet from the stalwarts of contemporary chamber music. Strictly speaking, it isn’t only a string quartet record as the Kronos is joined on many tracks by non-members playing indigenous African instruments such as mbira (a thumb piano) and kora (an African harp). This is music of joy, infectious rhythms and affirmation and it will stay in the memory long after a listen.
Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares
Or: The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices. Performed by the sober-sounding Bulgarian State Radio and Television Female Vocal Choir, who now call themselves the title of this record, which I guess is more audience-accessible. In the late eighties this record seemed to come out of nowhere, an unimagined musical dimension. It was that unfamiliar. It led me to traditional Bulgarian folk music which helped me see this choir had deep roots after all. The edges and quirkiness of the trad music are smoothed off a little in the BSRTFVC material and there’s a lushness that’s added, but this is hardly bland fare. It’s almost as powerfully exotic as it was when I first heard it nearly three decades and dozens of listens ago. It’s, by turns, soothing, gentle, sexy, fierce, and sharp as knives. Who knew European vocal music could sound as strange to Western ears as, say, Korean singing?
Sao Vicente / Cesaria Evora
The late Cesaria Evora, the “Barefoot Diva” from Cape Verde, was one of the superstars of world music. Cape Verde, an African island nation off the west coast of the mainland is, like all islands a mix of influences, but even that doesn’t account for all the Portuguese, West African and European musical strains in the country. There was always a lilt and sway to Evora’s music and it’s something I never tire of. Her sound was particularly influenced by Portuguese fado, sometimes called the “Blues of Portugal,” but that’s only a signpost, not a box to put Evora in. Her music really does sound like nothing else, but still comes to you with an air of familiarity.
Vocal Works / Gyorgy Ligeti
Gyorgy Ligeti was best known for his music used (without his permission) in the soundtrack for 2001. Those vocal clouds that accompany the monolith are unforgettable and, of course, alien-sounding. Some of Ligeti’s work was originally composed in secret defiance of the artistic strictures Communism imposed on his native Hungary. Much of this music would’ve curled the hairs of many a capitalist, too. Protest music has seldom been so thrilling or awe-inspiring. "Aventures," included on this record, was heard in 2001 toward the end of the movie while the astronaut Bowman ages in the “French” room. Like much of the vocal music on this record, "Aventures" provides an altered state of consciousness in the listener that is meditative and expansive, open to the infinite and all its wonders. The Old Testament sense of fear before God applies to more than a little of the music here.
Fiction/Government Documents Departments