various artists,
Chant: Spirit in Sound,
compiled by Robert Gass
(Spring Hill, 1999)

Compiled by Robert Gass, Chant: Spirit in Sound is a two-CD collection of "the best of world chant." The CD set is a companion to Gass's book Chanting: Discovering Spirit in Sound (not reviewed) but it stands well on its own. The chants come from all over the world and from a variety of traditions. While the word "chant" may evoke a defining image, Gass demonstrates its range in his selections.

The first CD, Ecstasy: the fire of devotion, contains 12 chants which convey outward expressions of praise. "Apache Honoring Song" by Walela blends the voices of Rita and Priscilla Coolidge and Priscilla's daughter Laura Satterfield in a smooth and precise sound underscored with drum and punctuated with bells. A different kind of drum, a frame drum, highlights "Qyria Yˇfˇfias," a Hebrew chant from Yemen sung by Ora Sittner. Sittner's voice rises and falls in lovely runs and ripples and the effect is entrancing. Chloe Goodchild offers a fascinating and remarkable performance of "Gayatri Mantra" in that she sings all the vocals, ranging from the deep-toned chant to the soaring background vocalizations.

The collection features unique cultural mixes such as "Gen Ma" from the Senegalese Monks of Keur Moussa. They sing the Nicene Creed in the Wolof language in a lilting and sweet rhythm. Cross-cultural ensemble Sarband and the Osnabruck Youth Choir perform "Kyrie Eliason" set in an Arabic musical mode. "Om Namah Shivaya" from Krishna Das is a unique musical fusion with a rock-like beat underscoring the western sounding arrangement of the ancient texts.

The second CD, Stillness: the journey within, contains chants designed to reflect inwards, beginning with the evocative "Zuni Sunrise" from Wil Namkena, highlighted with birdsong. Sarband returns with the ethereal "Polorum Regina." The bell-like performance is truly angelic. A rattle and drum herald another cultural mix with "Hanacpachp Cussicuiris," a blend of European choral music with the indigenous language, music and instruments of Latin America. The chant is performed by Savae, a group whose mission is to re-create and preserve this blend of music.

The Armenian Haissmavourk Choir performs "Hreshatakyin," and according to the thorough and well-presented liner notes, the soloist was recorded "in one of ... many hermetic caves" at a monastery. The recording makes effective use of the natural reverberation of the cave. Robert Gass and On Wings of Song, a 40-member ensemble Gass created, close the CD with "Heart of Perfect Wisdom," a soothing and vibrating rendition of a Buddhist mantra.

Both CDs are varied in their content and the arrangement of the choices maintains interest. The chants are well suited to meditation or as background to quiet work or conversation, but I don't recommend them for driving; when I listened to them in the car, I found myself not falling asleep but relaxing to a less than alert state.

Chant: Spirit in Sound does indeed live up to its promise of presenting "the best of world chant." Give it a try for a truly mind and ear-opening experience.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 28 July 2001

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