Press Article

By: Tom Orr

March 1, 2009

Roots World

The title might be overstating things, but the Silk Road Ensemble, started a decade ago by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, is certainly venturing well beyond their namesake trade route. Ma had a hand only as artistic director, leaving the composing and playing in other, very capable, hands. The disc is divided up into four sections, each a blend of inspirations and sounds that cross cultural divides and ethnic musical motifs to emerge as evocative pieces that are not quite classical, not quite "world" music and quite likely not like anything else you've ever heard.

First comes "Ritmos Anchinos" composed by Gabriela Lena Frank, on which the quirky pipa (Chinese lute) of Wu Man darts in and out of a string quartet playing Andean melodies that the Eastern sounds seem to alternately nestle in and evade. Angel Lam's "Empty Mountain, Spirit Rain" is led by the Japanese bamboo flute of Kojiro Umezaki, punctuated at various turns by violin, cello, bass, marimba and percussion, telling a tale that relies as much on silence as sound.

In marked contrast, the rhythmic complexities of Evan Ziporyn's "Sulvasutra," with Wu Man again wielding the pipa, Sandeep Das on tabla and a sympathetic string quartet, are both dizzying and sedate. The best of the lot is "Air to Air," a suite by Osvaldo Golijov that borrows from both Christian and Muslim devotional music sometimes deliberately distinct and sometimes seamlessly blended by a 16-piece lineup notably graced by Kayhan Kalhor's Persian spike fiddle, Cristina Pato on Galician bagpipe and Jeremy Flower's ghostly sampled sounds. There is of course a great deal of history and background to all this, but I'll leave it to you to peruse the liner notes and get the stories, which include commentary from the composers. This is armchair music that you really ought to be in a relaxed mood (or in need of one) to enjoy, and once you're in the proper frame of mind, expect such enjoyment in abundance. - Tom Orr


Back to Press Page