Ensemble Alcatraz with Kitka
Cantigas de Amigo - songs for a friend
Dorian Recordings (www.dorian.com)

cd cover After two engaging recordings for the Nonesuch label over ten years ago, the San Francisco Bay Area's early music artists finally resurface with a third and time has not diminished their ability to deliver lively readings of ancient European musical scores. Here they take on a few of the Cantigas de Santa Maria and songs of love and longing by Martin Codax, both already well represented in the world of ancient music recordings. So why another? Because the early music movement is still in its infancy, and because there is much room for interpretive license since so little often remains of original scores or performance instruction. The Ensemble Alcatraz's free sense of time and highly ornamented percussion work, when combined with the convincing voice of Susan Rode Morris has made startlingly fresh fare out of these musty papers. Presenting a mix of vocal-anchored interpretations and dance-inspired instrumental interludes, they make some of this old written music sound like their own while contriving complimentary material just as compelling.

Like a consortium of nuns, Kitka, the American women's choir known for their Bulgarian vocal music concerts, have been invited on a few tracks to complete the illusion of 13th century Galician-Portuguese songs of devotion. Though this is supposed to be music from the upper part of Iberia, it can't help but absorb a certain southeastern Europe flavor when Kitka sings. This may be disastrous to the ears of some early music purists or EA fans. However, no matter who's doing the performing strict authenticity will never be possible. Here, the effort is a no less intriguing alternative, a "what-if" these particular entities joined forces to make something as irreproducible? The suggestion opens an endless world of possibilities, the fact of which would seem to characterize the essence of music making right now in the early going of the 21st century: anything is possible, why not? let individual instincts, no matter how unexpected, determine the course. For the medieval/rennaissance music arts, in attempting to dream the past real, historical truth may be less important than sheer musicality and feeling today.

Using psalteries, harps, recorders, primitive fiddles and voices Ensemble Alcatraz strike plausibly rustic sounds and swing like the best, while creating a unique proposal that honors the "Divine Feminine" with one of the great collections of women's songs. Plenty of warm spacious resonance courtesy of Skywalker Sound provides the perfect cast to this mainly angelic effort. - Steve Taylor

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