Empire Brass

Passage 138 B.C. - A.D. 1611

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Many people do not realize that the major and minor keys are but vestiges of a system of eight modes devised by the ancient Greeks. The composition of music in the West was dominated by this system for 1100 years, from circa 400 C.E. to 1500 C.E., although it originated earlier and lasted longer in some places. On this disc, Empire Brass Quintet explores modal music wiht the aid of two vocalists, a guitarist, a bassist, a synthesizer player and a percussionist. Since there is a deep connection between brass instruments and fanfares and another connection between fanfares and the Middle Ages (think jousting), the album's concept, eclectic as it is, actually works. Although Gregorian chant and Hildegard von Bingen put in an appearance, this is not the stereotypical collection of soothing yet depressing chants. This music is played faster than that and carries a high drama, as on "De Profundis (From the Depths)," which features a martial percussion track and equally high-colored brass. You'd think with the synthesizer and the bass and the soft-focus recording that we were in danger of new age blandness here, but things never come to that. This piece could almost be an anthem at the Olympics. Some of the tracks are a bit overly diffuse and mild, but still interesting if you love ancient music. Even if it's not completely successful, experiments like this one should be encouraged.

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