Michel Godard

Monteverdi: A Trace of Grace

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If you get to thinking there's nothing new under the sun, try this release by French serpent player Michel Godard. (And if the serpent is new to you, visit www.serpentwebsite.com.) Recordings featuring the serpent are rare enough anyhow, and this one inhabits a whole new universe. The large-print Monteverdi in the graphics does not give the buyer an accurate representation of the contents; Claudio Monteverdi is the inspiration for the whole project, but only five of the tracks are performances of Monteverdi madrigals, and even those are for the most part heavily modified in very unexpected ways. Basically this is an album that combines early Baroque music and jazz in an experimental manner. Godard adds serpent lines to the Monteverdi pieces and to the other works on the album, all instrumental, which derive from Monteverdi in not very obvious ways: perhaps from a harmonic progression or motif, perhaps only in mood. The musicians have not tried to present a finished, coherent product but instead to force distinct traditions together and see where they begin to mix; in Godard's words, "the project was to try to make every musician understand the language of the other and to respect this language sufficiently so that together we can try to find a common language." The other improvising musicians are saxophonist Gavino Murgia (who in addition to his usual way of playing the horn channels vocalizations through it) and bassist Steve Swallow, best known for his collaborations with jazz pianist Carla Bley. Their Baroque counterparts are singer Guillemette Laurens, who plays it straight and sounds fine in the Monteverdi, violinist Fanny Paccoud, and theorbo player Bruno Helstroffer. If you're having trouble imagining what this is like, that's not surprising; the only recourse is to give this brilliantly original music a try.

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