It’s not uncommon these days to hear British musicians investigating foreign traditions; indeed Andrew Cronshaw explored Finnish music with his last album, 'On The Shoulders Of The Great Bear', made in Finland’s traditional music heartland. But for his new one, 'Ochre', it’s back to Britain, and the view is reversed: musicians from the traditions of the Middle East, Greece and Wales react to and build on music exotic to them – that of England.
The result, with each of the seven tracks using as its starting point a song melody from English tradition, is inventive, image-rich and voluptuous.
The team that gathered in January 2004, not in England but at a studio in the green rolling countryside of the south-west tip of Wales, comprises Syrian qanun and oud virtuoso Abdullah Chhadeh, the great Welsh triple-harpist Llio Rhydderch, Arabic vocal diva Natacha Atlas, Pontic lyra virtuoso Matthaios Tsahourides from northern Greece, multi-talented Australia-resident Brit Ian Blake on bass clarinet, clarinet, soprano sax and prepared piano, Irish double bassist Bernard O’Neill, and Cronshaw himself on electric zither, the 6 foot long Slovakian flute fujara, Chinese brass-reeded ba-wu and other instruments not usually associated with English music. But after all, much of what might be considered English culture, including music, has its origins somewhere else; this is just a continuation of that process.
'Ochre' was one of the four nominated CDs in the Critics’ Poll category of the 2005 BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music (the other three CDs nominated were by Youssou N’Dour, Lhasa and Tinariwen), and Andrew Cronshaw was one of the four nominees as Musician of the Year in the 2005 BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards.
Press review quotes:
"This fabulously restrained and crystalline-cool album consists of, strange to relate, versions of English folk tunes. Dominant cultures generally don't do folk very well (in these islands, Irish or Scottish folk has a lot more spirit) because folk music has always been a way for cultures under threat to rebel and forge a sense of identity.
Cronshaw's take on English folk has a twist - it's recorded with a panglobal ensemble, including Abdullah Chhadeh, a fine qanun and oud player (versions of the zither and lute) and Welsh harpist Llio Rhydderch. Cronshaw is a master of exotic instruments, chief among them the zither, fujara (a six-foot Slovakian flute) and a bawu (a Chinese brass-reeded instrument).
The disc is mostly instrumental (so you don't have to put up with twee lyrics about forlorn maidens), except for the last two tracks on which Natacha Atlas adds oriental colour. The result is splendidly unclassifiable.
Cronshaw is a musical adventurer - his last record, 'On the Shoulders of the Great Bear', had a Finnish basis, and unless I'm mistaken, he performed it live with melting blocks of ice and the smell of pine cones.
My first impression of 'Ochre' was that it could if anything be too tasteful - the kind of thing you might hear in an upmarket spa. But further hearing reveals something deeper, woven with a filigree of sounds - a meditative sense of landscape and place, with occasional shafts of illuminated light.
In the end, there's something unsettling about this - a single track might suggest the open flatness of East Anglia, a Zen garden or a Nordic wilderness.” - Peter Culshaw, The Observer
“It’s exotic and mysterious, and it comes as a shock to realise that the music being played is actually English.” - Colin Irwin, fRoots
“Don't worry about categorising this album as folk, classical, world or any other kind of music - just file under Essential.”
- Mel McClellan, BBCi.
“One of the finest albums of the year”
– Fiona Talkington, BBC Radio 3 Late Junction
“Beautiful, evocative music...an album that will surely be welcomed with open arms throughout the world.”
- Charlie Gillett, BBC London & World Service
released August 1, 2004
Cloud Valley CV2008
Andrew Cronshaw: electric zither, fujara, bawu, gu-cheng, whistle, di-zi, quenacho, koncovka
Abdullah Chhadeh: qanun, oud
Ian Blake: bass clarinet, soprano sax, clarinet, prepared piano
Bernard O'Neill: double bass
Natacha Atlas: vocals
Llio Rhydderch: triple harp
Matthaios Tsahouridis: Pontic lyra
Produced by Andrew Cronshaw and Ian Blake (trs.3-7), with Jamie Orchard-Lisle (trs 1-2)
Photos: Andrew Cronshaw
Design: Andrew Cronshaw & Phil Smee
Tracks 3, 4, 5, 7 recorded at Dreamworld studio, Priskilly Fawr, Pembrokeshire. Engineer Antti Rintämäki.
Tr 6 at Dreamworld and The Blue Studio. Engineers Antti Rintämäki & Andrew Tulloch. Tr.1 at Cloud Valley studio, London. Engineer Jamie Orchard-Lisle.
Mastered by Andrew Tulloch at The Blue Studio, London.
Andrew Cronshaw is a British multi-instrumentalist and producer, leader of the Finnish/Armenian/British band SANS, who also
has a long career as a writer on roots musics, particularly those of the Nordic, Baltic, eastern and central European and Iberian regions, for fRoots, The Rough Guide to World Music etc....more
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