It's been a half-decade since Krishna Das has released a new studio album, though he's had plenty of material floating around during that time, including a live album and a do-it-yourself devotional recording aimed at his main god, Hanuaman, not to mention his rigorous touring regimen. The man who single handedly made kirtan a household genre in America has just released Heart as Wide as the World (Nutone), the result of an idea by friend and Steely Dan co-founder Walter Becker. After seeing KD perform in Maui, the multi-instrumentalist said it was time for him to make a "garage band" album. While the record is a far cry from the dingy cassettes we passed around in high school, there is something to that statement.
At first listen, Heart... does not strike you in the way KD's Rick Rubin-produced albums, Breath of the Heart and Door of Faith. Then again, nothing in his catalog does. Rubin nailed a sound that captured Das's more reflective, internal modes. Heart... is about celebration and community, so while the harmonium is not as crisp and the vocals are pushed back in the mix, no album reflects Das's dual passions - kirtan and rock - as well as this. Don't expect metal guitars, but do expect tasteful six-strings and a drum kit, as well as KD's penchant for weaving English into his Sanskrit. I usually find this gratuitous in kirtan, but not here. There is commendable patience in each of these seven grooves, which explore the expectable territory of Ram, Govinda, and Shiva, with a twist that belongs entirely to the Long Island native who gave up a shot at singing with Blue Oyster Cult to follow Ram Dass to India in the '70s. To hear the man who returned to paint houses and clean up a veterinarian clinic evolve to so exquisite a sound makes one's heart smile.
Ana Moura was also faced with a choice, this one between rock and her Portuguese folk song, fado. Considering that even her producer prodded her toward the sound that put Lisbon on the musical map, she jumped in. Good thing, too, as she's become one of her country's biggest stars. So while the release of Leve-me Aos Fados (World Village) features a black and white photo of Moura with windswept stylized hair on the cover that would be fitting for any rock album, the mournful, guitarra-drenched songs are anything but. Well, they do rock you in a different way, tugging at your heart as the deep strains of her lyrical lines, waxing poetic the search of love and the sting of love lost. When Mariza rekindled the flame of fado for a planet stuck on Amalia Rodrigues throwbacks with her 2002 debut, Fado em Mim, Moura has stepped in as another veritable star, redefining the intent of the music in the process--she refuses to sing many standards because they were written during a time when women did not enjoy the freedoms of today. Good for her, and good for the rest of us.
Listening to Brooklyn Rider's ten-minute electro-acoustic rendition of John Cage's "In a Landscape," written in 1948 for solo piano or harp, is personally more gratifying than watching the man perform on old Youtube clips. Sure, those are essential landmarks, but there is something fuller and rounder about Rider's performance, perhaps equally eerie. Nothing wrong with that last word on the quartet's third release, Dominant Curve (In A Circle). Their interpretation of Claude Debussy's "String Quartet in G minor" takes care of that, only here it is eerily beautiful. Who are we kidding? That sums up the entire record, which also includes originals by Uzbeki composer Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky and Kojiro Umezaki, the last scored for the Japanese bamboo flute, shakuhachi, which I have not had the chance to hear--it's only available digitally, and I was sent a physical copy.
No less, there is plenty for me to dive into. I became an instant fan of these four men from my neighborhood after they created a masterful album with my favorite musician, Iranian kamancheh player Kayhan Kalhor, Silent City, in 2008. The three-violin and cello combination of Johnny Gandelsman, Colin Jacobsen, Nicholas Cords, and Eric Jacobsen are well-primed musicians, having played with Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble and collaborated with an impressive breadth of artists, including Irish fiddler Martin Hayes and Oakland- and NYC-based art-pop band 2 Foot Yard. Dominant Curve equals the quartet's previous work in intensity and sheer beauty, but when I really need the fix, I keep it simple with the first four movements of Colin Jacobsen's homage to Debussy, "Achille's Heel." Achilles was Debussy's first name: Achilles-Claude. Though the composer died of rectal cancer and not a leg wound, Jacobsen attempts and succeeds at painting a prettier picture with his tribute.
Since I invoked eeriness, there's no way I could leave out the latest creation from Guelph, Canada's beloved son, Andrew McPherson. I've had the pleasure of staying in his two-floor home/instrument warehouse, the Monastereo, which is essentially the studio to record at in the small but surprisingly important city an hour north of Toronto. He's been making his way as a folk singer covering the occasional Bjork song, as well as winning national awards for his African-Turkish-Dub-Whatever Fits electronic and live project, Eccodek. His latest output features fellow Eccodekian Deliveryboy (I'll let you figure out that name, if you can imagine what goes down in the agricultural pastures of Guelph), which is a re-scoring of the eternally strange Fritz Lang cult classic, Metropolis. Brazil years before Terry Gilliam could make it, Orwellian in Orwell's time, the piece was commissioned by Toronto's Yonge and Dundas Square for their 2007 Summer Festival series. Over eight hundred people tripped out to the sonic bleeps and beats conjured by these two men accompanying the 1927 film. While the press release goes on about the stylistic influences involved in the soundtrack's creation, it is so far left of field you'd just have to--and should--experience Metropolis Re:Scored for yourself. One listen and you'll be throwing virgins to Moloch too.