Lovers of the Kronos Quartet will know by now that second guessing the ensemble’s next move is nigh on pointless, one of their strong points (and occasional weaknesses) being a willingness to embrace all cultures and musics. Nor are they strict about remaining as a foursome – as this disc illustrates, all classical preconceptions can be left at the door.
You’ve Stolen My Heart is the Kronos Bollywood album, a tribute to one of the genre’s biggest composers, Rahul Dev Burman. The ensemble also enjoy the privilege of new vocals recorded specially by the composer’s wife, Asha Bhosle, described by Nonesuch as ‘the most recorded artist in the world’. The record company go on to view the release as a ‘musical masala’, an uncomfortable parallel with the curry house and a sounding like a dangerous recipe for indigestion!
Happily things do not unfold in that way, and this disc will doubtless open up the world of Bollywood for many new to the area, myself included. While it could be argued the quartet play little more than a supporting role at times, it’s the authentic percussion of Zakir Hussain, and of course, Bhosle’s vocals, that take this to the right level.
Whilst Hussain and the pipa of Wu Man are the only other artist credits it’s clear the quartet have made copious use of the original scores, too – a piano here, a trumpeting elephant there. And while this is all well and good, it begs the question as to how original is the Kronos’ take on this music.
That may be splitting hairs, however, as by and large the disc is extremely enjoyable and there are memorable moments such as the evocative cello line on Nadir Pare Utthchhe Dhnoa, the smoke clearly visible over the river. It’s clear in these areas that thequartet have worked hard on the resulting texture, and on their performance style too – vibrato closely guarded, the inflections of the melodies not always instinctive but doubtless helped by the facility of retakes in the studio.
There are many eye-opening moments here too. From the punchy chords of the opening Dum Maro Dum to the deeply felt Saajan Kahan Jaoongi Main, the quartet cover a big range of colours and emotions. Bhosle’s vocals are excellent, as you’d expect, and there is adistinct feeling of togetherness between the two forces.
Other highlights are the driven motive to Kai Aaya Aane Bhi De, passing through a dazzling array of musical styles in a short space of time, and the beautifully hushed viola of Hank Dutt providing the basis for Piya Tu Ab To Aaja, featuring a spinetingling hushed chord from the quartet. This number also raises the problem of juxtaposing electric and acoustic instruments, sometimes uncomfortable on headphones.
What can’t be disputed is that this is another extremely stimulating and interesting record from this source, and in that respect the Kronos Quartet have succeeded handsomely. If you’re a devotee, no need to hesitate.