According to composer, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist Eyvind Kang, the idea for Narrow Garden had haunted him since the middle of the 1990s. This wide-ranging musical statement on the various notions of love (and in particular, courtly love] involve poetry, "ashugh" singing -- a pan-Eastern folk tradition that emerged from the cultural roots of Near-Eastern and Caucasus mountain nations -- lyric poetry, and modes of composition ranging from Middle Eastern, Indian, Far Eastern, and Western European classical and folk musics. Kang's own developmental sonic architectures are at once identifiable. Earlier recordings, such as 2007's The Yelm Sessions and Athlantis, offer clues to the various processes at work here; many of these pieces were written during those sessions, and The Narrow Garden was recorded live in two locations during the same year. These seven selections, totaling just under 39 minutes, are populated by the talents of three ensembles comprising over 30 musicians. Many are longstanding collaborators -- Jenny Scheinman, Marika Hughes, Trevor Dunn, Jessika Kenney, and April Centrone, to name a few. The Middle Eastern melody at work in the opening instrumental "Forest Sama'i" is classical in nature, and while it contains numerous twists and turns, it operates on a singular set of modes and is easy to follow. It folds into the work's first real meld of styles, where ashugh singing, troubador, and even madrigal singing, Eurasian melodies, and Western classical harmonic notions make up "Pure Nothing." One can hear Don Carlo Gesualdo rub against Komitas and Alexander Spendiaryan. The text, written by Guilhem IX, was translated into English by poet W.S. Merwin. The abstraction of "Usnea," and the extremely compacted grouping of harmonic dissonances in the title piece, will be very familiar to Kang's fans. The set closes with the longest cut, the gorgeous "Invisus Natalis," with lyrics by the poets of Roman antiquity known as Sulpicia. Here too, with its bassoon, flutes, guitars, bass, strings, and percussion, is a Eurasian melody that crosses with modern Middle Eastern classicism and Renaissance tropes during the verses. As it reaches its final third, however, Kang begins to collapse the spaces between them; everything gets layered, making for a dramatic, dynamic dissonance that concludes the work on a highly distorted and breathless point of tension. The Narrow Garden succeeds, far more than either The Yelm Sessions or Athlantis, because there is nothing "narrow" about it. Its more accessible root melodies leave room for a wider array of colors and textures to naturally find their way into its mix. It is his most ambitious and focused work, and combines not only instruments and musical traditions, but cultural sonances and histories as well.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek