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Ma is longer driving the Silk Road Ensemble, but it's carrying on, and the members of Brooklyn Rider seem to be at its heart these days. Last fall it put out Off the Map, released by World Village in partnership with Brooklyn Rider's own label, In a Circle (which also released Silent City, the quartet's wonderful collaboration with Iranian kamancheh master Kayhan Kalhor, a regular Silk Road associate). All four pieces are new commissions, and though some clearly represent nods to the ensemble's original pan-Asian conceit—in the composers' ethnic backgrounds, in their musical choices, or in both—the group is no longer so strict about adhering to it. The new record also balances contemporary techniques, ancient traditions, and progressive concepts more seamlessly then anything the group has ever done.
Osvaldo Golijov is Argentinean and Evan Ziporyn is American, but both have long displayed a knowledge of far-flung regional styles. Angel Lam grew up in Hong Kong and Los Angeles. Gabriela Lena Frank is an American of Peruvian and Chinese ancestry, and below you can hear the first portion of her piece Ritmos Anchinos. In some ways her interest in threading together related sounds and traditions from distant cultures seems more relevant to the current state of the world than developing new work strictly within a single tradition. She heard similarities between the Chinese pipa, played here by the great Wu Man, and the Venezuelan cuatro, as well as between the sheng, played by Wu Tong, and the Andean wind instrument called the erquencho. I don't know the future of the Silk Road Ensemble, but if it's got more recordings like Off the Map left in it, here's hoping it stays active.
"Harawi Papra Colquipocro," from Gabriela Lena Frank's Ritmos Anchinos
A Broken Consort, Box of Birch (Tompkins Square)
Sun Ra, Featuring Pharoah Sanders & Black Harold (ESP-Disk)
Eli Keszler, Tilt (REL)
Jose Maceda, Ugnayan (Tzadik)
Mulatu Astatke, New York-Addis-London: The Story of Ethio Jazz 1965-1975 (Strut)