Robert Sadin has had an eclectic career as a conductor in both classical and jazz worlds, member of the faculty at Princeton, arranger, instrumentalist, and Grammy Award-winning producer. Art of Love: Music of Machaut uses a variety of his talents; he conceived, produced, and served as mixer for the album, arranged the music and texts of the songs by Guillaume de Machaut, as well as singing and playing clarinet and organ on some of the tracks. Although they were certainly meant to be accompanied, the melodies and lyrics are all that remain of Machaut's 14th century songs, and virtually nothing is known about how exactly they were meant to be performed. Sadin brings an unambiguously modern sensibility to his arrangements, which include both vocal performances and instrumentals, and even though the arrangements and improvisations use a variety of jazz techniques and styles, on almost every track he presents the melodies themselves absolutely faithfully. He assembles an array of outstanding performers from numerous traditions to collaborate on the pieces, including singers Milton Nascimento, Natalie Merchant, Madeleine Peyroux (who recites rather than sings the lyrics), John Ellis on winds, guitarist Romero Lubambo, violinist Mark Feldman, cellist and guitarist Charles Curtis, pianist Brad Mehldau, and percussionist Cyro Baptista. Improvisation plays a major role on every track; for "Force of Love," Sadin provided Curtis, Mehldau, and Baptista only with the melody, giving them complete freedom to develop the piece. The performers tend to emphasize the melancholy longing of Machaut's modal melodies, so the general tone of the album is gently evocative, but at the same time many of the arrangements have an Afro-Brazilian rhythmic undercurrent. Every track effectively provides a distinctive setting for Machaut's music, which is sometimes heard straightforwardly and sometimes woven subtly into a rich improvisatory fabric. Each of the songs featuring Nascimento is exceptional for its depth of feeling, and other standouts include Merchant's wordless vocalise; "Doux visage" with singer Celena Shafer; and the dance-like "Douce Dame," perhaps Machaut's most familiar tune, and the album's perkiest piece. The album includes two tracks by other composers, "Brad's Interlude," Mehldau's improvisation on a tune by Solage, a contemporary of Machaut's; and "Evocation," a soulful original vocal solo by Nascimento. Deutsche Grammophon's sound is immaculate with a warm intimacy. This beautifully executed CD should appeal to fans of jazz/classical crossover.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins