13 Songs, 1 Hour 26 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Over the years, the Kronos Quartet has expanded the notion of what a string quartet can be. On Floodplain, the group performs arrangements of pieces from the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe. “Ya Habibi Ta’ala,” a song that was a hit in the Arab world in the ‘40s, was arranged by Kronos and the Argentinean composer Osvaldo Golijov and evokes the sound of tango as much as mid-20th century Egyptian pop. On “Getme, Getme” the quartet joins forces with the Alim Qasimov Ensemble, an Azerbaijani group that features the passionate singing of Qasimov and his daughter, Fargana Qasimova. “Lullaby,” a traditional work from the southern coast of Iran, where there is a significant African presence, is one of the album’s highlights. The eerie, plaintive music is given voice by David Harrington on scordatura violin and the other players. Floodplain closes with the 22-minute “…hold Me, Neighbor, In This Storm…,” by the Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalov. It’s a musical portrait of Vrebalov’s homeland: church bells, the Muslim call to prayer, the rasp of the single-stringed gusle and the beat of the tapan drum all mix with the string quartet to evoke the region’s cultural diversity.

EDITORS’ NOTES

Over the years, the Kronos Quartet has expanded the notion of what a string quartet can be. On Floodplain, the group performs arrangements of pieces from the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe. “Ya Habibi Ta’ala,” a song that was a hit in the Arab world in the ‘40s, was arranged by Kronos and the Argentinean composer Osvaldo Golijov and evokes the sound of tango as much as mid-20th century Egyptian pop. On “Getme, Getme” the quartet joins forces with the Alim Qasimov Ensemble, an Azerbaijani group that features the passionate singing of Qasimov and his daughter, Fargana Qasimova. “Lullaby,” a traditional work from the southern coast of Iran, where there is a significant African presence, is one of the album’s highlights. The eerie, plaintive music is given voice by David Harrington on scordatura violin and the other players. Floodplain closes with the 22-minute “…hold Me, Neighbor, In This Storm…,” by the Serbian composer Aleksandra Vrebalov. It’s a musical portrait of Vrebalov’s homeland: church bells, the Muslim call to prayer, the rasp of the single-stringed gusle and the beat of the tapan drum all mix with the string quartet to evoke the region’s cultural diversity.

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Ratings and Reviews

4.1 out of 5
35 Ratings

35 Ratings

7urr ,

Mixed reaction

In some ways, the long 1-star review here is right on the money: there is a decent amount of soupy "ethnic" stuff in this album. It feels like Kronos's attitude is "ooh look how we can take traditional songs from other places and alienate them with a string quartet and weird arrangements," and apparently they expect that to be intriguing. Well in many cases it just comes across as boring and even pretentious. Most of these tracks I will probably listen to twice and then forget about them. But it's not all bad, there are some up-sides to this album. I really loved the piece by Serbian composer Alexandra Vrebalov, "...hold me, neighbor, in this storm..." Also, I literally laughed out loud when I saw that they covered a song by Ramallah Underground, because I was already familiar with this group, and a cover by Kronos Quartet was the last thing on earth that I expected. And their version of the old-time Egyptian song "Ya Habibi Ta'ala" was rather pleasant.

On a more tangential note, I keep seeing this album being referred to as "politically current" or having some kind of political message. Sure, virtually all of the countries from which these pieces are derived are presently full of political controversy, but that in itself is not a political statement. A lullaby doesn't become political just because it comes from Iran. The only thing even remotely similar to a political message, at least as far as I am aware, is the track by Palestinian electronica/rap group Ramallah Underground, "Tashweesh." The burgeoning genre of Palestinian rap has so far been overwhelmingly political in its message, but that aspect is only a vague echo by the time Kronos puts their bows on it.

Boolez ,

blah!

Is this kitsch or kool? I can’t decide. The current release by the Quartet Kronos is another exercise in pseudo ethno-musicology with a few sort of real compositions to boot to give it some legitimacy. It’s a statement album that has little to tell us. Half of the pieces on the album barley could be classified as a string quartet. Most sound as if it was ennobled elevator music from the hotel of the country they where touring and this is the basic problem of the disc: it makes arrangements of basically commonplace music. This is really nothing new and does not deserve our attention. Kronos tries hard to remain hip and relevant by surrounding rather bland music with the occasional real music and token pop tune. The pop tune in question this time is not from a semi-obscure Icelandic rock group but from the semi-obscure hip-hop unit Ramallah Underground. My guess that the inclusion of this “string quartet” is to make one feel at once both edgy, hip, and kind of politically active. It pains me to think that the Kronos feels that it can get away with selling us sub-par music and then make ourselves feel self important by doing so. This is a sad turn of events for a group that had done stellar work in the past raising the profile of how a quartet can tour while not be ashamed to play new concert music in the process. It’s easy to write this off as a mistake but they have a track record of doing this sort of thing now but I wish that I could have my old Kronos back making music that matters and not this overproduced schlock.

PeterMarek ,

Surprising!

Surprising! Fresh. Perfect! *****

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