While considering (for much longer than I usually do in such things) how this CD should be approached, I happened to drop Popul Vuh's For You and Me into the player one day, and everything fell into place. Annette Cantor's Songs to the Earth is almost the exact opposite of Florian Fricke's 1991 New Age disc, and where For You is a rather joyous ode to life, Songs is a great deal more even, level, serious, and multi-ethnically spiritual, traditional, but with quite modern contours. Cantor worked with a contemporary of Fricke's, the rather well-known Deuter, a number of whose Kuckuck LPs have, since they were issued, occupied a space in my prog collection and whose output has been as celebrated and, within its mode, as varied as Popul Vuh's. 'Twas the seriousness of intent in all these artists, though, that solved the unformed querulousness I'd been feeling over Songs.
That out of the way, I listened anew to the singer's conflation of inflections in Gregorian chant, plainsong, and American Native refrains in the first cut, Gaia Dreaming, and especially to the zen-like Native American flute of Patrick Shendo-Mirabal, so let me explore that latter aspect for a moment. Such flutes are much akin to shakuhachis in more than just their elemental form: either they're going to be played glibly, as in FAR too many New Age recordings, or they're going to be utilized in the same fashion a poet wields a pen. The latter is precisely the mode Shendo-Mirabal employs—using it for bird call, animal noises, ambient coloration, emotional content, whatever is needed (even just music!)—and with a broad palette of shades and hues. He's accompanied by a cellist and two percussionists, and these are all he needs as the quartet weaves a spare but clear tapestry of New Mexico redrock and sandstone, high desert glades and forests, balmy days and limitless expanses, eventides and starry firmaments.
Cantor's performance occupies an interesting space between ritual and opera, the latter especially evident in Ave Generosa. Her singing is well schooled, clear and modulated, observant of antecedent processes, fidelitous to intent, knowledgeable of requisites, mixing them all together without sacrificing integrities. Quite a task, and accomplished without flaw. Michael Kott's cello is crucial in that respect as it reaches underneath the practicum of ritual to capture the resonantly fundamental vibration, the essence of human spirit no matter where it occurs, under what skin color, by what racial claim, or through whatever other tired dogma. Sometimes he waxes as moody as a didgeridou (Healing Prayer) while other times reflective of any number of somber reflections, occasionally even reminiscent of Apocalyptica and that ensemble's edgy insistent repetitive rock underpinnings, infusing an ostinato that digs deep.
Then there are the twinned allsorts of Mark Clark and Mike Chavez (Gregory Gutin appearing in Gaia Dreaming), just as thoughtful, never overstated, dignified, sometimes almost animistic, perpetually populating the atmospherics as intelligent, benign, solemn participants in the drama. Cantor wrote all the CD's songs as meditational devices, and they certainly work that way but also as great calming background music that nonetheless captures the imagination, without clamor or fanfare, misting into one's consciousness like a gentle vibrant breath—and, though it's heresy to say so, I'll take this CD over Paul Winter's overly creamy such efforts (1982's Missa Gaia and etc.). Where Winter observed the stuffy side of cant and recitative, Cantor lays down on the ground and then excavates well beneath the cathedrals and corruptions of religion to draw up what really matters. If I have to explain it any better than that, then you need to go back to your Torahs and Magisteriums and leave this material alone, 'cause you'll never understand it.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2011, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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