Melodies of Marco Polo Dance into Your Body: A CD review by Stanley Fefferman

marcopoloThe Musical Voyages of Marco Polo. Kyriakos Kalaitzidis: Harmonia Mundi/ World Village. Release: 2014-03-11

The title tells you about the historical Silk Route journey concept of this project, so let me tell you how it sounds.

The music of composer Kyriakos Kalaitzidis, based in Byzantine classical traditions, sings melodically, but with a strong sense of dance. The nasal whining and twang of his oud lines move like loping camels  ornamented by the patient jingle-jangle of their bells. Huiran Wangs’ plectrum on the strings of the solo pipa sounds elemental like stones rattling in a tin pot. The melodies are rhythm-based: strokes of implement or hand on stretched skins of tombak  and other percussion reflect the strokes on stretched strings of oud, setar and sarang. The nuances of rhythmic changes and   melodic inflections dance right into your bones.

Styles, timbres, temperaments and textures of the vocalists couldn’t be more wide-ranging, various and interesting. Some of them  shout—field shouts. Nodira Primatova supplicates like a love-lorn banshee in her Uzbek song “Ey Dilbari Jononim.” Maria Farantouri sings the album’s most affecting song, “The Stranger,” in a high, haunting voice of exquisite sensitivity. Amartuvshin Baasandorj’s “Chandmani untag,” a Mongolian style song, is an exotic tour de force because his mouth and hand jive— like Tibetan overtone – harmonic or throat – singing—growls in gritty lower pitches or whistles and whines like a jews harp.

This project is a collaboration between two ensembles: En Chordais, directed by virtuoso oud play player Kyriakos Kalaitzidis, and Constantinople comprising brothers Kiya and Ziya Tabassian (Kiya plays setar, sings and composes, Ziya explores the infinite possibilities of the tombak and other percussion instruments), and Pierre-Yves Martel— a viola da gamba player from Montreal.

There is a whole world of listening here, a generously packaged  feast for the ear and the mind. Five Stars.


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