Gesualdo: Madrigals for Five Guitars
"The polyphonic music of late Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo (1566-1613) still fascinates for its forward-looking chromaticism and its stark, unpredictable shifts in character. His Fifth and Sixth Books of Madrigals from 1611 construct a world of their own--a distinctive body of work that has found adherents as diverse as Igor Stravinsky (who orchestrated Gesualdo madrigals in his 1960 Momentum pro Gesualdo), Werner Herzog (who directed the macabre, fanciful 1995 Gesualdo documentary Death for Five Voices), and now the French guitarist Noel Akchote. Akchote is best known as an improvising guitarist heard solo or in memorable collaborations with Derek Bailey, Sam Rivers, Lol Coxhill, Fred Frith, Evan Parker, Han Bennink, and many others. He has also contributed his distinctive talent to recordings by, among others, Luc Ferrari, David Grubbs, J. G. Thirlwell, and Jean-François Pauvros. In recent years, Akchote has immersed himself in the study of medieval and Renaissance music, resulting in a mind-bogglingly prolific series of digital releases of the complete works of Carlo Gesualdo and Guillaume de Machaut, as well as arrangements for guitar of works by Monteverdi, Palestrina, and Orlando di Lasso. By all means, lend an ear to Noel's strange and marvelously obsessive project -- these hours and hours of home recordings of overdubbed guitars playing polyphonic music. Gesualdo: Madrigals for Five Guitars, by contrast, shows what happens when Akchote puts together a band of five guitarists to tackle this music in a live setting. Gesualdo's madrigals are scored for five voices, and Akchote was intrigued to discover that the pitch range of the Fifth Book of Madrigals exactly matches the range of the Renaissance lute--an instrument that Gesualdo himself played. Under Akchote's direction, the five equal voices of these madrigals are transformed into five equal electric guitars in what in theory would seem a crazily heterogeneous ensemble, featuring Julien Desprez (Acapulco), David Grubbs (Gastr del Sol, Belfi / Grubbs / Pilia), Adam Levy (Norah Jones, Tracy Chapman, etc.), and Doug Wamble (Wynton Marsalis, Cassandra Wilson). And yet, Gesualdo: Madrigals for Five Guitars is nothing if not a coherent massing of five otherwise distinctive approaches to the guitar -- just as Akchote envisioned it. Gesualdo: Madrigals for Five Guitars is suffused with the extraordinary ambience of the library at the 13th-century Abbaye de Royaumont, where these spontaneous, resolutely alive performances of selections from Gesualdo's Fifth Book were documented. The group kicks up its heels at the end of the day to end on the high note of Guillaume de Machaut's 'De Fortune me doy pleindre' -- a little ditty dreamed up almost four centuries prior to the Gesualdo pieces."