Les Voix d'Itxassou is perhaps saxophonist, composer, and arranger Tony Coe's most ambitious project. Here he pairs an orchestra of no less than 18 pieces with vocalists from all over the world to sing songs of political, social, spiritual, economic, and class alienation and resolve. With many texts written by poet Francis Marmonde, some of the singers -- who include Marianne Faithfull, Ali Farka Toure, Maggie Bell, Abed Azrie, Françoise Fabian, Marie Atger, and Juan José Mosalini, to name but a few -- offer aspects of the various tragedies of nationalism and dislocation. In the case of non-French-speaking singers such as Farka Toure, they wrote their own texts according to the dictates of the collaboration. Unlike many of his more musical and experimental projects, the notion of song is everything here. The human voice communicates its emotion and truth in its fullness or grief, and the orchestra underlines, shades, colors, and otherwise creates a net under or around it. In some cases, such as Azrie's "Le Legende de Oiseaux," indigenous instruments such as the nay are added to the orchestra's arrangements. Only Bell sings in English, while Faithfull sings in German, Farka Toure in Nigerian, and Violeta Ferrer in Spanish. Coe's arrangements are so spare yet so ever-present, they become as necessary as the song structure itself, carrying a melody and turning the harmonies back to the singer to feed from. If only others composed for song in this way, wit might be reinvented in the context of Anglo-European music. This is one of Coe's finest hours.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek