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This item in Raum Klang's Souvenir series is an instance where the German concern is delving very deeply in its archives; the debut album of Leipzig-based group Ioculatores is deep indeed, as it dates from 1993, the very first year of Raum Klang's existence. The subtitle "Songs and Dances of the Thirteenth to Fifteenth Centuries" would indicate an impressively wide array of styles, but for some reason it doesn't lead to an equally wide array of realizations; this band of eight -- at least in 1993 -- tended to treat repertoire as mere grist for the instrumentally conceived mill. Some of it, such as the treatment of Guillaume de Machaut's ballade Quant je sui mis au Retour as a dance piece, is spectacularly successful and will make you want to write home to Mom. However, certain other pieces are just as spectacularly unsuccessful; witness the cautious, tortoise-like tread in La Seconda estampie royal. This would be in keeping with the period description of the Estampie as a solemn and courtly affair, but the pace is so torturously slow that one wonders if it would be more liable to send the average medieval royal to bed, rather than to get up and boogie; after all, the Estampie is a dance.

The arrangement of tracks is also an issue. Despite the rave up that begins the album, from the second track the feeling of excitation drops through the floor and stays there for several successive cuts. Dances such as La Manfredina and its corresponding rotta are introduced with a pretentious "drum roll please"-styled introduction and then rendered at dance tempo, subsequently alternating back and forth between both approaches. Such hybrid realizations may serve to stretch out some of these medieval dance tunes, often shorter than most laundry lists. However, it makes the listener question the intentions of these realizations. Are we really playing medieval music, or is it some kind of 1970s-styled progressive rock projection of it using museum instruments?

There are some positives to Ioculatores, however. Members of period-instrument groups that are mainly instrumental in orientation seldom manage to also be decent singers, and Ioculatores has a good one in Robert Weinkauf. He sings in a direct, vernacular style and never sounds affected or overly "trained," yet he also never sounds like someone who ought not to be singing, and it's a nice balance. The prominent use of the Jew's Harp, an instrument definitely present in the medieval period, is also fun, and for an early Raum Klang production this recording is better than average; it's just short of being over-reverberant, and percussion instruments and drones come through loud and clear. The overall impression of Ioculatores' debut is a positive one, as long as one can make it through the slow spots.

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