Baird Hersey & Prana with Nexus – Chiaroscuro (Bent Records, 2016)
For music junkies looking for something off the beaten path, you might want to check out Chiaroscuro, a recording out now on the Bent Records label. It’s a collaboration between harmonic singing group Baird Hersey & Prana and the Toronto-based percussion group Nexus led by Garry Kvistad.
Mr. Kvistad and Nexus have an extensive performing, touring and recording history that includes such recordings as Paul Horn and Nexus, Changes, Origins, Toccata, Lullaby, DrumTalker, Rituals and Out of the Blue.
As luck would have it that this collaboration came out of a new instrument built by Mr. Kvistad– the vistaphone. The vistaphone is a set of chimes that are tuned to the same harmonics and scale to the second higher pitch used by harmonic singers. Add in the vibraphones, xylophones, orchestral drums, glockenspiel, Chinese gongs, Balinese gongs, marimba and the Balinese instrument the gender used in gamelan music and immerse the lot into the singers and harmonic singers of Prana and you turn out Chiaroscuro.
Borrowed from an art term and defined as the effect created out of intense contrast of light and dark, Chiaroscuro delves deep into contrasts of light and dark, the ancient and the contemporary and East and West.
From the very opening of “A Splinter of Dawn” through tracks like “The Rituals of Dusk” and “A Vast Expanse of Sky,” the listener is lulled by a charm of ethereal vocals, the tang of bells and gongs and the reedy turns of harmonic singing.
While this recording might not be to everyone’s taste, this combination explores the music wholly through percussion and the human voice. Tracks like “A Crown of Radiant Fire” and “Luminous Ocean, Rising Waves” build on that contrast between light and dark even by way of track sequencing.
Falling further down the rabbit’s hole, listeners get the full force of Prana’s singers by way of tracks like “We Are All in the Garden,” “The Wheel of Impermanence” and “The Lord of the Monkeys” in the Vox Pulsaitio section without percussion on the recording.
While some might pass off Chiaroscuro as a little too avant garde for easy listening, it’s always good to step out of one’s comfort zone. The performances on Chiaroscuro are as impeccable as they are impressive. Those into meditation are sure to enjoy the contrasts of the first seven tracks with their ethereal light, harmonic singing and gamelan influences and those listening for vibrancy the bare bones interworking of vocals are truly stunning.
Buy the digital version of Chiaroscuro
Author: TJ Nelson
TJ Nelson is a regular CD reviewer and editor at World Music Central. She is also a fiction writer. Check out her latest book, Chasing Athena’s Shadow.
Set in Pineboro, North Carolina, Chasing Athena’s Shadow follows the adventures of Grace, an adult literacy teacher, as she seeks to solve a long forgotten family mystery. Her charmingly dysfunctional family is of little help in her quest. Along with her best friends, an attractive Mexican teacher and an amiable gay chef, Grace must find the one fading memory that holds the key to why Grace’s great-grandmother, Athena, shot her husband on the courthouse steps in 1931.
Traversing the line between the Old South and New South, Grace will have to dig into the past to uncover Athena’s true crime.