Hughes de Courson

Babel

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The creator of the music on this compilation is Hughes de Courson, a figure of some prominence in France but almost unknown elsewhere. He emerged from the zone between folk rock and progressive rock in France in the 1970s and played for many years with a group called Malincorne that, like comparable English-language ensembles, occasionally delved into aspects of the classical tradition, using, for example, Baroque orchestral instrumentation and medieval melodic materials. Since leaving that group, de Courson has intensified these explorations and developed a range of ways in which classical pieces can be incorporated into music external to the tradition. Note that for the most part, these are pieces taken from world traditions -- Arabic, Irish, West African, and Andalusian are the most common four -- with classical melodies, many by Mozart, added to them; they are not classical pieces with pop rhythms added. The appeal is the fertility of de Courson's mind in approaching the problem of combining fundamentally disparate materials. These pieces, drawn from various de Courson albums (the double disc is essentially a greatest-hits set), are all different. They include Mozart arias joined to Arabic songs (in The Queen of the 1001 Nights, CD 2, track 2, the Queen of the Night's big aria from The Magic Flute is sung in Arabic), Vivaldi-Irish fusions (which actually have intriguing historical underpinnings), Bach accompanied by African drums (one group of Gabonese drummers, intrigued by the relationship of "Ruht wohl, ihr heiligen Gebeine," from the St. John Passion, BWV 245, apparently pronounced Bach an "initiate"), and more. De Courson's collaborators include not only Gabonese musicians, but Bulgarian choristers, flamenco players, an opera singer of Arab descent, sampled children's voices from various parts of the world, as well as European stars from Gabriel Yacoub to Nana Vasconcelos. To top it all off, the relationship between the basis of a piece and the quoted classical material is quite diverse; it may involve contest-like passages (sample the Alatul Concerto for kaval and flute, CD 1, track 15) or explore modal similarities between Western scales and Arab structures. The whole thing is, in short, very far from being a novelty; it is a flexible, intelligent exploration of the places where the margins of musical traditions may flow together. And it's likely to hold your attention through two whole discs and linger in the mind long afterward.

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