There's a lot to love about Mappamundi's first CD release: powerful vocal harmonies, complex musical arrangements and exotic acoustic instruments played with great relish. And they're all rendered with pristine clarity, courtesy of Jerry Brown's studio and Skylark Studios in Chapel Hill. Mappamundi translates as "map of the world," and the selections take us on that globe-circling journey: There's "Sinii Platochek," a popular World War II song from the Soviet Union; "Down Among the Dead Men," a number from Colonial America; "Okrug Selo," from Croatia; "Tsi Darf Es Azoy Zayn," a Holocaust text with tango rhythm popular in the '30s and '40s and "Now is Come Our Joyful Feast," in which "a cheerful Elizabethan text mongrelizes a gloomy shape note tune." That same brevity and wit characterize the descriptions accompanying the rest of the songs: "Polegnala is awakened in an irritable mood by an acorn falling on her head--she had been dreaming her sweetheart had brought her a golden ring in a multi-colored bouquet," read the CliffsNotes to "Polegnala E Todoro." Like a visit to the opera, the translations only add to our enjoyment. But more importantly, it's the music itself that leaps off the CD. Regardless of the source or style of the number, the music swings--there are no museum pieces here. And given the historic and academic bent of the group's members, you know you're getting the real deal.
Beth Holmgren is professor of Slavic languages and literatures at UNC-Chapel Hill; Jane Peppler directs the Triangle Jewish Chorale and teaches singing at the Duke University Short Courses Program; Robbie Link is a ubiquitous performer/teacher/composer/arranger as well as the owner of Hillsborough's Red Hawk Music; Jim Baird teaches in the Durham school system; and multi-instrumentalist Ken Bloom has "introduced audiences to unfamiliar sounds in an entertaining way" on venues like A Prairie Home Companion--when he's not building the obscure instruments he plays, like the Bandura and the Kantele. (On World Music Our Way, you'll have to settle for guitar, trombone, bouzouki, accordion, dobro, fiddle, viola, concertina, bass, percussion and piano.) "This is the world music that makes us happiest," says the group. It also demonstrates the power that music, no matter when or where it's made, has in capturing our imaginations--and transporting us from the mundane to the unexpected.