This project is built on a paradox: the idea that a large-scale African landscape can best be expressed musically in the most Germanic of media, the full romantic orchestra. Schnyder employs a sonic palette closely associated with Bruckner, Mahler and Strauss. It works because Ibrahim's eclecticism extends far beyond his African roots and encompasses American jazz and blues, Arabic influences, English choral and European romantic music. (Schnyder points out that, as a master of suspense and musical space, Ibrahim is a great "rest composer" in the tradition of Bach and Beethoven.) It also works because Schnyder's arrangements are deeply in touch with Ibrahim's belief in the hypnotic, cathartic, healing power of music. The huge ensemble never overwhelms or intrudes. It surrounds Ibrahim's trio (with Marcus McLaurine on bass and George Gray on drums) with airy, translucent elaborations that add scale and texture and fascinating detail to this varied fabric of incantations.
Casting its documentary net even wider than Ken Burns's Jazz series, American Roots sets its sights on more of the nation's quintessential styles and musical pioneers - affording context and continuity for viewers turned on by the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. In this four-hour, soul-stirring gumbo, just about every root gets its due, including bluegrass (Ralph Stanley, Bill Monroe); blues (B. B. King, Charley Patton, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson); country (Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, Hank Williams); gospel (Mahalia Jackson, Thomas A. Dorsey); folk (Leadbelly, Woody Guthrie, Mississippi John Hurt); Cajun and zydeco (Clifton Chenier); Tejano (Valerio Longoria, accordion master Flaco Jimenez); and Native American (Floyd "Red Crow" Westerman).
At a time when rock was evolving away from the forces that had made the music possible in the first place, Creedence Clearwater Revival brought things back to their roots with their concise synthesis of rockabilly, swamp pop, R&B, and country. Though the music of CCR was very much a group effort in their tight, punchy arrangements, their vision was very much singer, songwriter, guitarist, and leader John Fogerty's.