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Floodplain / Kronos Quartet

Release Date: 05/19/2009 
Label:  Nonesuch   Catalog #: 518349   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Midhat AssemTraditionalSaid RustamovRam Narayan,   ... 
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kronos Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

FLOODPLAIN Kronos Qrt NONESUCH 518349 (78:50)

ASSEM (arr. Golijov, Kronos) Ya Habibi Ta’ala. RAMALLAH UNDERGROUND (arr. Garchick, Kronos) Tashwesh. TRAD Wa Habibi. RUSTAMOV (arr. Qasimov, Garchick) Read more class="ARIAL12bi">Getme, Getme. NARAYAN (arr. Kronos, trans. Ljova) Raga Mishra Bhairavi. anon (arr. Ljova, Kronos) Oh Mother, the Handsome Man Tortures Me. ASADOLLAHI (arr. Kronos, trans. Ljova) Mugam Beyati Shiraz. TRAD (arr. Garchick, Kronos) Lullaby. BEY (arr. Prutsman) Nihavent Sirto. SHIDEBAEV (arr. Kronos) Kara Kemir. AGA (arr. Garchick) Tèw semagn hagèré. VREBALOV _. . . hold me, neighbor, in this storm . . .

The Kronos Quartet (David Harrington and John Sherba, violins; Hank Dutt, viola; Jeffrey Zeigler, cello) has over the past decade established a new genre in new music discography. It’s the world-music tour. In one sense there’s a huge market of such music already out and about: collections of various cultures and traditions, and crossover albums featuring combinations of Western and non-Western musicians (one of the earliest progenitors being Paul Simon’s Graceland ). But the Kronos does something different yet again. They first choose a linked theme and cultural entity. Then they research interesting musics of all sorts from the locale, from a wide range of traditions, both “learned” and vernacular, traditional and experimental. Then they find a series of collaborators, from both within and without the culture. Finally, they study and master a wide range of performing techniques from these traditions, so that they can realize pieces as closely as possible to the original performance practices, and perform (in public as well as in the studio) with the native musicians.

The result is a rich, flavorful tour of music we often don’t know (unless one is an ethnomusicologist). The Quartet’s taste is truly eclectic. Collaborators include a Palestinian techno band (Ramallah Underground) and an Azerbaijani family ensemble (the Qasimovs, in Rustamov’s Getme, Getme ). The tour stops in Egypt, India, Iraq, Iran (black Iranian descendants of African slaves, no less), Turkey, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia, and Serbia. You can see that there’s a Central Asian center point here that radiates out in every direction. (The album title comes from the conceit that the region is home to many of the world’s civilization’s source rivers.)

The performers are quite breathtaking in their ability to absorb and reproduce the original musical traditions in terms of timbre, intonation, and inflection. (I don’t use the term “mimic,” because what the Kronos accomplishes feels much deeper.) Each member is able to take the solo spotlight in one of the pieces, and each is stunning in his turn. Sherba becomes a Turkish tanburi (fretted lute); Zeigler channels a Kazakh qyl-kobuz (two-string horsehair fiddle); Dutt’s viola transforms to an Indian sarangi ; and Harrington embodies Azeri musical practice (as well as additionally evoking the garmon , a type of accordion) in Mugam Beyati Shiraz. There’s much more; this gives a hint of the transcultural virtuosity on display here.

There are many highpoints. I’d like to signal particular attention to the Qasimovs’ ripping performance of Getme, Getme (which comes from a concert performance with the Kronos). Ironically, the only disappointment for me was the one “new classical” work on the program, Aleksandra Vrebalov’s . . . hold me, neighbor, in this storm . . .. The Serbian expatriate composer has created a sonic tapestry evoking the richness of her culture, which has been ripped apart by nationalist insanity. Its use of samples and live traditional instruments is well integrated with the Quartet’s material, but it seemed a little too long and loose-jointed for its 20-minute duration.

I’ve reviewed a couple other such collaborations by the Kronos in Fanfare : their Bollywood disc of music by R. D. Burman with legendary singer Asha Bhosle (29:2) and their “Nuevo” album of Mexican music (26:1). This album is on the same level, and indeed maintains a sense of continuity and consistency despite its far wider geographic reach. Nothing could be a more tonic antidote in the current climate of a “clash of civilizations” between the West and Central Asia.

FANFARE: Robert Carl
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Works on This Recording

Ya Habibi Ta'ala "My Love, Come Quickly" by Midhat Assem
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kronos Quartet
Wa habibi by Traditional
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kronos Quartet
Getme, Getme "Don't Leave, Don't Leave" by Said Rustamov
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kronos Quartet
Raga Mishra Bhairavi: Alap by Ram Narayan
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kronos Quartet
Oh Mother, the Handsome Man Tortures Me by Anonymous
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kronos Quartet
Lullaby by Traditional
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kronos Quartet
Kara Kemir by Kuat Shildebaev
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Kronos Quartet

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