Gamelan Madu Sari
Songlines SGL 2406-2 (www.songlines.com)

Vancouver’s brave label Songlines Recordings has just released the second fine album by that town’s Kyai Madu Sari. Playing a complete Javanese gamelan, this group of composers and musicians has been developing innovative music and theatrical productions since 1986. Their ambitious and delightfully rewarding album documents a new level of artistic sophistication and an ability to communicate their voice to a wider non-gamelan-centric audience.

“Hive” is constructed around three things: the group’s provocative shadow theatre production Semar in Lila Maya, the full possible instrumental range of the Javanese gamelan, and vocals up front in the mix. In fact those unfamiliar with the world of Javanese gamelan music may be surprised at the prominence of the glorious solo and choral singing in much of it.

Ben Rogalsky’s compositions illustrate all three threads beautifully. His song From Heaven to Earth deftly draws on two music genres for inspiration: the old-fashioned syncretic Indonesian folk style kroncong and the more recent Javanese campur sari. Behind Rogalsky’s backing of gamelan allied with mandolin, cello and string bass, are the warm and communicative vocals of the composer, Jessika Kenney and the chorus. The same vocal group is heard to good, though very different, effect in English composer Alec Roth’s eerie Full Fathom Five.

The Javanese born and long-time west coast resident Sutrisno Hartana's two elegant compositions are the most Javanese in feeling and conception of the works presented here. “Hive” is a rich and rewarding musical experience that challenges as well as it soothes – and magically manages to do it on several cultural levels at once.

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