New Music

Photo by Jay BlakesbergKRONOS QUARTET
If Vicente Fox doesn't make the Kronos Quartet honorary Mexican citizens after Nuevo, then there really is no God. These audaciously experimental classical musicians have adapted standards from every Mexican musical genre imaginable for this disc (the theme music to the kiddie TV show El Chavo del Ochoand Chalino Sánchez's notorious narcocorridos, to name the most esoteric) and also toss in the stateliness of chamber music, creating the greatest testament to Mexico's cultural richness ever burned on CD. Nuevo's encapsulation of the country is so perfect I don't know where to begin: it has the proper sense of geographic and chronological disparity that defines the nation (with selections from ancient Chiapan indigenous chants to the post-modern Nortec of la frontera), captures the polarity existing between the rich metropolis (Agustín Lara's "Se Me Hizo Facil") and the destitute countryside ("Cuatro Milpas"), and is sometimes just plain weird (what the hell is "Plasmaht" about?)—like the country can so joyously be. But the best selections are also the simplest: their right-on version of the zapateada hell-raiser "El Sinaloense" and a soul-stirring collaboration with falsetto singers on "El Llorar," in which the all-string quartet somehow pulls off emulating the furiously plucked guitar rhythms of the son huasteco form. Kronos infuse their song selections with humor (witness the goofy banter on the whimsical version of space-age bachelor Esquivel's "Mini Skirt") and rework a dazzling range of rhythms to fit their straightforward two violin/viola/cello setup magnificently. Nuevo could have easily been a pretentious throwaway—save for the quartet's gusto for brilliance.


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