If you like strings, consider Karenautas, a 14-piece outfit featuring five violinists, four cellists, and two double bassists -- with a singer, clarinetist, and drummer completing the lineup. And Karenautas are from Argentina, so if you like tango...well, actually, don't expect any Piazzolla on Recreo, Karenautas' 2012 debut album, and clarinetist Martín Rur has suggested in an interview that listeners shouldn't regard the group as devoted primarily to Argentina's musical heritage. Instead, Rur noted the influence of Ravel, Debussy, and Bartók, but there are also non-classical touchstones, and even a big Argentine one: Recreo is dedicated to the late Luis Alberto Spinetta, a giant of Argentine rock who died in February 2012, not long after the album was recorded. Recreo even includes a cover of "Barro Tal Vez," from Spinetta's 1982 album Kamikaze, initially sung with fragility here by singer Melina Moguilevsky, her voice dominated by all those strings (arranged by violinist, composer, and musical co-director Delfina Zorraquín to incorporate elements of Schumann's Intermezzo in E-flat minor, Op. 26). In its own way, Karenautas' approach to "Barro Tal Vez" parallels the intimacy of Spinetta's original, in which his gentle voice was accompanied only by electric piano and acoustic guitar. Moguilevsky sings more forcefully later in the song, and elsewhere on the disc, her wordless soprano serving as one instrument among the many others ("Valse de Alina" presenting a particularly beautiful example).
But this is primarily an album for string lovers, particularly those who enjoy classical repertoire but who also like their music roughed up a bit, even seasoned with extended techniques. "Arlequines," the first of Recreo's 14 brief tracks, is upbeat and circusy, pushed along by an oompah beat and bits of shouting and laughter. Time ticks away with pizzicato plucks and clarinet reed pops in the frantic and cartoonish "La Máquina Karmática," whose insistent repetitive cadence, march-like shouted chant, and overall mocking tone seem to suggest some heavy cosmic burdens faced by humankind. A melancholy mood imbues cellist Lucas Argomedo's "Villa" -- those with only cursory knowledge of the classics may find parallels to Pachelbel's famous and ubiquitous Canon in D here. Three strong Zorraquín compositions conclude the disc: the lighter-than-air 5/4 "Trampolín al Cielo," with arpeggiated pizzicatos and a breezy vocal chorus; the richly contrapuntal "Pupila Magnética," with the composer's musical saw adding a weird touch; and the lovely "Mantreando." Elegiac with a subtle tribal beat, "Mantreando" is a perfect disc-closer, its strings rising and falling with the vocal harmonies of Moguilevsky, Zorraquín, and Rur, hinting at the folk and indigenous sources of new age music but with an organic warmth and authenticity that the genre can sometimes lack. Recreo might be too impolite for background music at your next classy dinner party, and too quirky and varied if your guests drink up all the wine and want to tango, but for wonderful music that can't be so easily pigeonholed -- put on Recreo and prepare to be thoroughly engaged.