Exploring the World in Song Jazz Expert Finds Musical Inspiration and Energy in Choirs of Many Cultures. MUSIC: REVIEW

By Amy Duncan, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, February 8, 1991 | Go to article overview

Exploring the World in Song Jazz Expert Finds Musical Inspiration and Energy in Choirs of Many Cultures. MUSIC: REVIEW


Amy Duncan, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


WHEN one thinks of choral music, what often spring to mind are the great classical vocal works of Western civilization - Bach, Mozart, Handel, and so on. Yet since the broader recognition during the past few years of groups like the Bulgarian Women's Choir (Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares) and South Africa's Ladysmith Black Mambazo, choral music has taken on new dimensions.

Now there's a new choral collection called "Voices" that will change anyone's limited understanding of choral music forever.

The beautifully packaged set - three CDs in a cloth album-sized box with a beautifully illustrated, informative booklet, put out by Mesa/Bluemoon Recordings - presents 33 choruses (more than 1,000 singers) from Japan, Tibet, Germany, Bulgaria, India, Venezuela, Africa, England, Bali, Sweden, the United States, Israel, and the Soviet Union.

It includes gospel choirs, Sufi choirs, Tibetan monks, harmonic choirs whose singers produce more than one tone at a time, traditional Western-style choruses, and even singing whales!

"Voices" was compiled by the prominent German jazz critic and producer Joachim-Ernst Berendt, who founded the "World Music Festival" in Berlin in 1966 and has produced more than 300 jazz albums.

Mr. Berendt, whose book "The Jazz Book" has sold 1.5 million copies, has written for practically every jazz magazine. He has produced 20 other books including two about listening - "The Word is Sound" and "The Third Ear."

Why would a jazz critic take such an interest in world choral music? In a telephone conversation from Switzerland, Berendt says "It was not so much an interest in choruses, but an interest in spiritual music." And he adds, "Some people feel that it was a break between my jazz work and my spiritual work, but it wasn't a break, it was a gradual opening up.... I'm still very much in jazz. But I have become much more open to other music, and especially spiritual music in all the cultures of this planet."

Berendt became interested in the spiritual side of music while working in jazz.

"It makes sense that one of the sources of jazz is called `spiritual,' the Negro spiritual," he says.

"I always felt this spiritual part in jazz, but I think most musicians did not - you know, when the tunes came from American popular music and had to do with love and flirting and romance."

Berendt had a long-standing friendship with John Coltrane, the late saxophonist and jazz innovator of the '60s. …

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