Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Nuova musiche

Back in the vinyl days, I had the two Camino de Santiago albums by Thomas Binkley's Studio der Frühen Musik. I even saw his group when I was at the university, where he revealed that most of their performances were improvised. Not a big deal today, but kind of a shock in the early 1970s in a college music department. Other early music groups I saw and heard seemed more academic, and the players all had music stands. I preferred Binkley's music by far, and have in general only followed early music to the extent that it retains a high degree of spontaneity. Gregorio Paniagua's ensembles were the only other group I found to match my somewhat arbitrary standards.

As an impulse purchase about a year ago, I picked up Nuove musiche by Rolf Lislevand, on the ECM New Series label. It's a beautiful album, and doesn't sound the least little bit like most early music that I've heard. As usual, ECM's packaging make it worth while to buy the CD, which includes a 28-page booklet with photos, the sources of the works, and a longish article in English by Lislevand. Lislevand played lute in Jordi Savall's Hyperion XX group, and has enough academic credentials to play early music in a stuffy manner, but it sounds more like acoustic jazz or the Fahey-Kottke school of fingerpicked guitar than it does like "classical music".

Jordi Savall's daughter, Arianna, plays the harp and voice on Nuove musiche, but she also has a solo album, Bella Terra. Her voice is one of the most beautiful voices I've heard in a very long time. She doesn't use as much vibrato as classical singers, which I appreciated (opera is one of the few genres I can't tolerate, right along with hip-hop), and her compositions are just as lovely as her voice. She is accompanied only by three other string players, and not on every song. Savall wrote all of the music, but for the first several listens, I was unable to identify the language of the lyrics. It turns out to be Catalan, a language from northeastern Spain that was suppressed under Franco but which is now enjoying a revival. The poems are all devoted to the concept of living at peace in the present moment, and the music carries an intimacy and joy that I have rarely heard. The album is available both from iTunes and emusic. Both online stores classify the album as world music, but it is in a world of its own, completely unique in my experience. Savall's web site has the opening song, L'Amor, complete. I listened to this song once and was hooked. (Hat tip: On An Overgrown Path.)