Agricantus
Best of Agricantus
World Class (www.worldclassrecords.com)

cd cover This anthology is America's first introduction to a music precariously balanced between promise and threat. The promise is that of a compelling synthesis of Northern African elements with a tribal, medieval music of a recognizable yet alien culture, perhaps that of a nearby parallel universe or a fictional construct. The threat is collapse into a trite, throbbing, narcotized pop rave. The evidence of this recording weighs heavily in favor of promise. The threat is ever present in the booming bass, the leisurely yet insistent percussion, the loops, the effects-laden vocals and instrumental clips, but these labor in the service of complexly conceived and executed compositions, rather than dominate or substitute for them. Traditional instruments are integrated tightly into the songs, and never sound like egregious afterthoughts.

"Com' U Ventu" is probably the best track here. It opens with driving bass and shuffling percussion, picking up interestingly denatured chanting or wailing, a ghost tribe riding the wind, heralding the arrival of Rosie Wiederkehr's stunning lead vocal, at first comfortingly conversational and intimate, later breathless, heated, and furious. Each listening reveals another pleasure; an instrumental trick, or one of Wiederkehr's seemingly endless catalog of vocal effects. "Weltweit" is much calmer, a trilled traditional melody alternately intoned by a chorus of Wiederkehrs and a more na´ve native voice, interspersed with verses dominated by slack percussion and more of Wiederkehr's breathless hip-hop intensity. "Disiu" is another startling track, based on a simple, bone-rattling bass figure and complex, layered percussion riding a rolling beat, Wiederkehr's passionate, glottal vocal reminiscent of Lisa Gerrard's when not breaking into spoken declamations.

The dense and richly layered production of Agricantus' music also makes it remarkably responsive to listener mood, sounding subtly different this morning, this afternoon, next week; there's always something you didn't hear before. - Jim Foley

Buy it at cdroots.com

Listen to an "audio postcard" from Agricantus on CBC's Global Village

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