What with the ongoing ravages of COVID-19 and Vladimir Putin’s egoistic, hell-on-earth war (nothing special about this “military operation”), it is an ideal time to release A Miracle of Faith on Bridge Records. The primary artists being Border CrosSing’s instrumental and choral components and a few soloists, all led by the capable hands of Ahmed Anzalúda.
The five works from four different composers have much to say and hear about faith, hope and charity that many of today’s so-called leaders might well reflect on before their next selfish act.
It all begins with Celebration of St. John from Beatriz Bilbao. The venerable saint’s journey from the Congo to Venezuela (first two sections: Arriving in Curiepe, The Procession) lifts off with a heady, energizing combination of percussion (including prima, curzado, cumaco and batá drums—notably in The Procession, where “water” can be heard if not seen), bird calls, and choral declamations—at times two lines intertwining with each other. The especial seriousness of baptism is also described with appropriate reverence, even as harmonic shifts signal the brief solo lines.
The “San Juan” transition to The Liberation is particularly effective before the concluding Saint John Congo features a joyful crocodile (don’t reptiles have souls too?), with an invitation to the dance (everyone accepts along with hints of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story fuelling the steps and near-perfect ensemble). The last hurrah is a fitting conclusion to this opening demonstration of just what sincere faith can accomplish.
Easily the finest craft and most engaging performance of the CD is Ariel Ramierz’s Missa Criolla. In this instance, instrumental accompaniments are rendered by the Andrean Ensemble (Gabriel Blondel, guitar; Stirling Callander, percussion; Cherolyn Fischer quena, zampona, accordion; Rahn Yanes, string bass), Nicolas Muñoz director and percussionist. Pianist Kevin Gamble also offers much to the mix.
Kyrie is introduced by appropriately solemn drums and a humming chorus. Ever-flexible tenor Matthew Valverde paves the devotional path with liquid legato. The tierce de picardies are most welcome, the only caution is an overall flow that is a tad stiff at times.
After a purposefully nervoso opening, Gloria soon exudes confidence and surety as the conversational lines unfold.
Supported by Blondel’s positive undercurrents, Credo offers a compelling belief and a short history of all that went before.
Rollicking fun from the get-go, Sanctus defies the Vatican and lays down an entirely danceable expression that so many believe. One can only wish that more religious experiences could find their light sides too.
From the ever-inventive mind and imagination of pianist-composer Mary Lou Williams comes a wide-ranging (in all senses of the word) tribute to St. Martin de Porres (Peruvian, 1579-1639). It begins with an acapella homage to the much-loved saint, overflowing with reverence and a compelling mix of choral styles and harmonic colours. Porres’ accomplishments are then revealed in a stronger more confident manner before a reappearance of the opening phrases. Throughout all of this, the diction is spot-on and, save and except for a couple of excursions to the heavens, the pitch is clear and true.
And then it falls to Gamble, Muñoz, Keith Yanes (string bass), and (with a few vocal do’s added from time to time) praise the saint—instrumental style. As with “part 1” the music starts off thoughtfully, tempered with a relaxed, easy-going vibe, gradually building in intensity (kudos to both Yanes and Gamble for their improvised solos—everything ideally balanced) before calming back down for the final acapella adieu.
Osvaldo Golijov: La Pasión según Sar Marcos
The final two works come from Golijov’s Pasión.
A tolling bell immediately sets the tone for Eucharist. The female chorus (mostly in unison) delivers the “narrative” while soprano Bethany Battafarrano—offering clean, clear declamations over a wide range—represents Jesus. Its brief timespan vanishes as if in seconds.
We Give Thanks utilizes an edgy, mysterious, misty percussion introduction, artfully ushering in the chorus. Everything builds convincingly, truly the words “Tremble, tremble, earth…” are painted religiously. We give thanks to all those responsible for bringing this disc to life. JWR