Various Artists

Anthology of World Music: The Music of Laos

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Perhaps as a Frenchman ethnomusicologist Alain Danielou started feeling a little secure in this part of what was once known as Indo-China by the mid-'60s. For whatever reason, listeners familiar with the Baren Reiter Musicaphon will inevitably comment that this album looks like somebody dashed out the backdoor before finishing the project. But this judgment is made strictly on the standards of this label's productions in several different series that were sponsored by UNESCO. In other words, the photographs and liner notes provided are still a lot more than what one gets from other labels. This album was the first volume in A Musical Anthology of the Orient, and it is the term "musical" that should get the most attention, because the musical happenings on this recording should keep the serious listener enthralled for hours. Eight different groups or performers get between one and three tracks each. The performers are uniformly brilliant. To the casual ear, all the trappings of an enjoyable ethnic music record are here, including catchy rhythms, exotic instruments, and foreign languages being sung. What intensifies the experience is the genius of the musical structures in these pieces. "Pure Music" is an ensemble performance that should be required listening for any percussionist before they are allowed to get on stage, including cousin Jimmy who plays in the garage band. Of course the khene, a giant mouth organ, is one of the greatest instruments ever designed. The solos played on this instrument by Thao Phet are extraordinary and will appeal to anyone that likes drone music. There are other recordings available that consist totally of khene performances. Orchestral or large ensemble performances are wonderfully disciplined and organized, and also benefit from the wisdom of the music's subject matter. The extended "I Shall Return," for example, treats us to a parrot expressing gratitude for receiving food and shelter in a strange land. Some of this music is considered to be from the Laotian classical music tradition. It is a superior combination of savory traditional folk elements and scintillating serious music concepts, such as counterpoint. Even the tendency to lose interest during an extended vocal outing in a foreign language is tempered by intriguing musical phrasing, such as the held note that concludes "Folk Song of the North." Singers Thong Linh and Sai Thong are totally swinging, as is their chord chomping khene accompanist, once again our friend Phet.

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