Cosmo Cosmolino's debut CD features an impressive range of material, from the traditional and classical to the experimental and playful. They bear a certain similarity to the better-known Kronos Quartet, another avant-garde string quartet that straddles the line between classical, jazz, and popular music. But the presence of singing accordion player Judy Gunson, as well as Dan Witton's sonorous double bass, set Cosmo Cosmolino apart and make them particularly well suited for the experimental "nuevo tango" sound originally pioneered by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla. Streetsweeper contains striking arrangements of two Piazzolla numbers. The first is one of Piazzolla's best-known compositions, "Libertango," which receives an unusually melancholy treatment here that sets its suspenseful melody against a backdrop of eerily quavering strings. The second, "Jacinto Chiclana," is a mournful piece featuring lyrics by Jorge Luis Borges, which are sung hauntingly by Gunson. Three members of the ensemble have also composed original tangos for the album that skillfully draw from different aspects of the tango tradition. The two written by Witton and cellist Helen Mountfort are actually more traditional than the Piazzolla arrangements, while lead violinist Hope Csutoros' "Caipirinha Afternoon" is deliciously sultry and mysterious. But the album demonstrates a range that goes far beyond tango. With "Medve (Bear)," the group is at its most playful, launching from a whimsical waltz into chaotic improvisation. The dreamy "Gyermek Enek (Children's Song)," with its wistful vocal melody, is likely to confound the expectations of those who think a children's tune should be simplistic and upbeat. It is an excellent conclusion to an impressive first effort.
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