Caravan – a company of travelers on a journey through desert or hostile region.
In this wide-ranging musical trek across the terrain of human experience, Kronos Quartet wisely invited several instrumental colleagues to join their train. The result is a magnificent array of colour, ideas and feeling that can’t fail to find its way onto the top-ten playlist of music lovers everywhere.
No better place to start than Vrebalov’s “Pannonia (once a Roman province) Boundless.” David Harrington’s affinity with gypsy tone and technique is admirably complemented by Hank Dutt’s earthy viola. A punchy Czardas erupts, sending everyone to their feet dancing: the music teems with slinky slides. Then one last gasp and away we go with vigour and aplomb.
Next, the sultry heat of Paredes’ “Song of the Green Years” (featuring a melodic line that teases the ear with its homage to “Summertime”) provides a deliciously relaxing mood created by a delicate pizzicato supporting the deceptively languorous bows.
At the next stop—Burman’s forward-moving “Tonight is the Night”—the addition of Zakir Hussain’s driving tabla, woody percussion and all manner of slides, shifts the trip into high gear. Kronos Quartet and Co. toss it off with knowing-confidence and obvious love for this work and its wit.
The peril of navigating life’s challenges comes home with Rangel’s “The Little Death.” Its Viennese waltz tone and Brahms-like melody are the perfect foil to the heavenly harmonics and shivering tremolos circling above, waiting to illuminate the fallen. Jennifer Culp’s solo style has just the right measure of presence and discretion, easing the phrases securely—and memorably—along the road.
Sapo Perapaskero’s “Turkish Song” explodes with a rhythmic joi de vivre that effectively dissolves its bar lines in favour of momentum and fun. Sure, some of the passagework—like a musical five o’clock shadow—is a bit on the rough-and-ready side, but its high voltage will leave any nit pickers languishing along the side lines. What a recipe: Sticks on the bass, a wee bit of Bach-like counterpoint, followed by a cup of Bartók dissonance, Cristinel Turturica’s heady cymbalum work, a pair of accordions—all zipping ahead as relentless as California’s 2005 winter rain. Music doesn’t get much tastier than this!
“Gloomy Sunday” lives up to its name with its long history of association to suicide. The pair of verses, each introduced by a “Song of the Volga Boatmen” reference, aurally sets the scene of dispatch on a riverbank in emotion-rich understatement before, finally, rising eerily to the afterlife.
Terry Riley’s “Funeral March on Mount Diablo” could only come next. Kronos Quartet steps into a supportive role as the music shifts into electronically derived high art: a March Macabre that any devil would adore. The tolling cymbal and braying brass add huge contrast to everything that precedes or follows.
Anibal Troilo’s “Responsory” and Paredes “Romance No.1” combine to banish the air of death and destruction using totally different techniques. The former comes across as mildly melodramatic, more conversational than tuneful in its religious fervor; following its multilayered introduction, the latter seems uncertain of which way to turn until the warm octave-writing finally wins the day before all disappear into the night.
Kayhan Kalhor’s “Gallop of a Thousand Horses” comes just in time to reinvigorate the proceedings. But, despite its pulsing rhythm, Hungarian riffs and rattling drums, seems too vertical, as if the steeds are perpetually rearing on their hind legs.
Culp distinguishes herself again with the beautifully shaped opening solo of Ali Jihad Racy’s “Ecstasy,” which is more released than merely played, compellingly sets the stage for the dreamy lines and breathy colour of the composer’s nay (reed flute). Aided by the seamless transition to the waltz variant and Dutt’s bending interventions, signalling the final return and farewell, the music is as addictive as the title.
Incongruously, a snare-stick count-down swings the set into its final port. Yet once launched, Nicholas Roubanis’ “Misirlou Twist” is the perfect, infectious closer as its non-stop energy and swing celebrate the joy of arrival—all perils survived if not totally conquered.
Take the voyage and see for yourself! JWR