Hughes de Courson, Babel (Virgin Classics, 2008)

Mozart is blended with Egyptian music, Bach is set to African percussion, and Vivaldi compositions are played like Irish reels. Operatic sopranos sing to the beat of dumbeks, Bulgarian choirs sing flamenco, and children sing and rap folk songs from around the world. Songs are sung in French, Spanish, Bulgarian, Arabic, Medieval Italian, and even a made-up language. Welcome to Babel.

He's not known in this country, but Hughes de Courson has been a part of the folk and classical music communities in France for over thirty-five years. He originally came to prominence as a member of the medieval rock group Malicorne, playing a variety of instruments both familiar and unfamiliar. (Anybody out there know somebody who plays the crumhorn?) More recently he has spent his time primarily as a producer and arranger; his most noteworthy credit from my perspective is the 2000 CD Ilmatar by the Finnish folk group Värttinä. His musical interests are as eclectic as anybody's, but he also has an artistic ambition to match it. Babel is actually a compilation album, gathering material from nine different albums de Courson put together between 1993 and 2008.

If there's a flaw with Babel, it's that it suffers from what Lewis Carroll would call "muchness." The album covers an astounding amount of musical ground in a bulky 136-minute, 2 CD package. To say that listening though it completely requires a serious attention span would be an understatement. Still, there are at least one or two things to suit every musical taste -- how could there not be -- and there are a few highlights to justify the expense of your time. I'm particularly fond of the Balkan flamenco of "Romero Santo" on disc one and the combination of Bulgarian female voices with an angelic child singer and a classical waltz on "Tana Shàot Leïn" on disc 2.

It's been said that music is the universal language. Hughes de Courson certainly believes that, and Babel is a massive testament to de Courson putting his belief into practice. It's a hell of a lot to digest, but I think anybody who tries will find their efforts rewarded.

Overall grade: B+

reviewed by Scott

"Toma que Toma"

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