England's Orlando Consort, a quartet of male singers augmented as needed by other performers, offers performances of Renaissance vocal music that lie midway between the traditional and the highly individualized modern. Sometimes they veer toward one of those two extremes, but often, as on the present disc, they find a happy medium. Their sound, especially in sacred music, owes much to the English cathedral tradition, but there's a well-honed edge to their one-voice-to-a-part interpretations that brings out the crowds who've recently been drawn to early music. This disc is intended as an introduction to a composer who doesn't always offer easy listening to the modern ear. Netherlander Antoine Busnois, active at the end of the fifteenth century and considered the greatest figure between Dufay and Josquin, wrote music that broke free from elaborate medieval numerology but came in advance of Josquin's perfect marriage of music and text.
After the unqualified critical, chart, sales, and Grammy successes of the Robert Glasper Experiment's two Black Radio albums, remixes, and singles, the need to explore was requisite. ArtScience is a reflection of the qualities and musical interests that brought this band together. Their seamless meld of contemporary jazz, hip-hop, neo-soul, pop, and rock has influenced a host of artists following in their wake. This album marks a new modus operandi: it's the first time the band has written and produced collectively. (Even the two covers here were arranged by the unit.) It's also a first in that there are no guest vocal cameos. The set was recorded in New Orleans over two weeks apart from the endless touring and hustling solo careers of its members.
Steve Roach and Robert Rich are the most important electronic ambient musicians in the U.S. SoMa is their highly acclaimed follow-up to their first collaboration, Strata. Soma, according to Vedic writings, is "a drink made from plants which could help one commune with the gods." It is also the Greek word for body. So they designed this CD to be a vehicle to traverse between the physical and spiritual worlds. It is deep stuff. The soundscape offers listeners the opportunity to pursue and achieve states of ecstasy. The only extracurricular involvement is from the souls of the music and the listeners. The psychoactive atmospheres penetrate the defenses of the spirit and use Earth's resonant rhythms to tap into the biorhythms. From that point forward, Rich and Roach are in control. Listeners will go to the far reaches of the netherworld and stay within the limits set by this duo.
Although we know little about Robert de Visee (c.1655-1733), he was an important figure in French Baroque music, both as chamber musician to Louis XIV and later as the guitar tutor of Louis XV. He published works, mostly in the form of suites of dances, for guitar, and for the lute and theorbo (a type of bass lute popular in the 17th century).
The first thing one notices about this disc is the attractive sound, rounded yet detailed; the second is that the playing of the orchestra is stylish; last but not least, the soloist's first entry tells us that he, too, is a fine player. Rainer Kussmaul's name was unknown to me, but a note on the jewel-case says that he is about to become leader of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. He produces a lovely sound on what sounds like an excellent instrument, and phrases gracefully: altogether this is most enjoyable Haydn playing.