Mappamundi: World Music Our Way. Skylark CD 3001 (68:27). Available online at http://www.mappamundi.com.
Although the Triangle-based group Mappamundi has been in operation for a long time and has turned up in some (frankly) unexpected places, such as an arts booking conference held several years ago in Wilmington, its "more-or-less traditional music of the Northern Hemisphere and the previous millennium" rarely intersects mainstream classical offerings.
As noted in our recent review of the band's December 9 joint concert with the Triangle Jewish Chorale, however, several of its members participate regularly in "classical" gigs and one - Robbie Link - seems almost ubiquitous. The other musicians are Jane Peppler, TJC's conductor, Beth Holmgren, Ken Bloom and - on this CD - Jim Baird. If the credits are all-encompassing, these folks at various times during the recorded program play thirteen different instruments and (believe it or not) sing, too.
Now there's nothing even remotely classical about the group's debut CD but if you are a longhair geek with more than a corpuscle of artistic curiosity you will probably like the music a lot. Several of the Yiddish songs were performed during the aforementioned December concert; despite the language and instrumentation that classical people might find, well, unusual, these numbers, drenched with melody and often reflecting heartfelt longing, are truly beautiful. So too are the several Russian and Eastern European songs - from Bulgaria, Croatia and Macedonia - that dominate the 21-number compilation. A group of songs from England, Ireland, Canada and America round out the set. The accompanying booklet explains what's going on without lapsing into any musicological gibberish. The sound is splendid and - as at their recent concert - the band gives full measure in exchange for your investment - the recording lasts nearly 70 minutes.
Listeners who recall the heyday of the Friends of the College, which series often presented international folk ensembles, or listeners who now enjoy the even more richly varied presentations of Duke's outstanding Living Traditions series (under the banner of which Mappamundi has appeared), or listeners who savor recordings by, say, the Klezmatics will surely treasure this CD, which can serve admirably as a stuffer for a slightly over-sized stocking or as a primary gift for any major music lover in your life. For still more information, to see the cover art or to sample RealAudio files from the CD, surf over to http://www.mappamundi.com/skylark/ .
Readers may hear Mappamundi, whose name means "Map of the World," in concert at the ArtsCenter on December 16 (see our calendar for details) and purchase copies of the new release at that time. If you're as happy as these musicians - and after hearing 'em play, you will be - the artists will probably be delighted to sign the booklet for you at no extra charge!