The 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic
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Of all the string instruments, the cello is the one that is most self-sufficient when heard en masse. Villa-Lobos knew it — his "Bachianas Brasileiras Nos. 1 and 5" are the results — and The 12 Cellists of the Berlin Philharmonic have been proving it for some 30 years before the release of this album of American music of several stripes. No one needs to be told that this is a crossover special; after all, it has been released as a joint EMI Classics/Blue Note project. But this is no rah-rah album of patriotic pieties, for the CD explores the dark side of "America" as well as its soul-lifting show tunes, spirituals, and jazz tunes. Using all kinds of extended techniques that prod and scrape at the instruments, the opening "Caravan" sounds truly dangerous, capturing the dissonant strands that stick out of the Ellington 78 of the 1940s and have seldom been heard since. Bob Brookmeyer, the jazz trombonist/arranger/composer, surprises us all with "Amerika 2002: In Memoriam," a troubled two-part meditation on the state of the union, inspired by the events of September 11. On the other hand, Leonard Bernstein's "America" is turned into a neo-classical piece, while the "Pink Panther" theme emerges remarkably unchanged in its essential sneakiness. In what turned out to be the album's principal coup, the cellists managed to persuade their new chief conductor, Sir Simon Rattle, to supply the "rap" for Sergio Cardenas' hilarious "The Flower Is A Key (A Rap For Mozart)." Rattle obliges with his deep, mischievous Liverpudlian accent, putting his stamp on an album which serves notice that the tenures of Herbert von Karajan and Claudio Abbado at the Berlin Phil are going to look awfully stodgy in comparison to the Rattle era. ~ Richard S. Ginell, Rovi