La Roza Enflorese is a Belgian ensemble founded in 2000 devoted to a very specific repertoire: monophonic Sephardic song. The group acknowledges that in their original forms, these songs were solos for women, accompanied only by tambourine. The ensemble chose to use a variety of accompanying instruments that would have been common in countries that ringed the Mediterranean, where the members of the Jewish Diaspora would have settled following their expulsion from Spain in 1492. Beyond that liberty, the group on occasion uses instrumental combinations from disparate cultures and time periods. They argue that Sephardic musical culture was adaptable, and accommodated itself to, and appropriated from, whatever setting it found itself, and since it continues to be a living, organic, evolving tradition, a wide range of musical influences is available to enrich it. In hands less musically and culturally sensitive, that kind of interpretive license could result in disastrous eclecticism and the loss of any cultural integrity. In the song from which the group takes its name, the ensemble dances right up to that line, combining Renaissance instruments with a diatonic accordion, in a habañera rhythm, but does not quite cross it. The song is exhilaratingly vibrant, and the rightness of its sound contradicts any scholastic reservations about its performance practice. The other pieces on the album are notable for the chaste purity of the instrumental combinations, used in wonderfully lively performances. The performers' deeply felt singing and playing honor the music's roots in popular Renaissance culture, as well as its currency in certain contemporary Mediterranean cultures. All the performers contribute to this vitality, but since she is featured as a singer, Edith Saint-Mard stands out. Her tone is absolutely pure, and her expressive range encompasses the most delicate and robust moods in the tradition of the best folk singers. Like all the members of the ensemble, her rhythmic flexibility makes the music breathe and dance. The repertoire itself, gleaned from modern folk traditions, has an otherworldly beauty, at the same time strange and universally expressive. The balance is excellent and the sound is present and lively.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins