This new disc from
Musiques Suisses mixes Gregorian chant and jazz. But anyone
will be disappointed if they expect the sort of mélange produced
by the Hilliard Ensemble and Jan Garbarek. Here jazz saxophonist
John Voirol, whose concept the album is, has produced a series
of jazz pieces written for his saxophone trio. These pieces
alternate with and comment upon Gregorian chant sung by the
Schola Romana Lucernensis.
The link between
the two groups is Father Roman Bannwart, who is choir-master
of Einsiedeln Monastery, director of the Schola Romana Lucernensis
and a professor at Lucerne Music Academy. Voirol is also a professor
at Lucerne Music Academy and he and Father Bannwart have worked
together on a number of projects since 1997. These have juxtaposed
jazz and plainchant, sometimes bringing the two together.
On this disc, the
Schola sing fourteen pieces taken from the Codex Einsidlensis
121, Codex Engelberg 314 and Codex Beromunster. The Codex Einsidlensis
121 contains two- and three- part tropes such as the impressive
Kyrie magnae Deus potentiae, Ovans chorus scholarium and Benedicamus
The Schola’s singing
of these is measured and firm. They lack the element of fantasy
that a smaller group might bring to these pieces, but they sing
with a remarkable unanimity. They create the sort of impression
of uniform and firmness of purpose which is what we anticipate
from a group of monks who would sing the music on a daily basis.
The Schola includes men and women, for much of the time singing
In just two pieces,
they are joined by saxophones. In Kyrie magnae Deus potentiae
one of the saxophones contributes a low drone to the organum
and in Kyrie cunctipotens genitor Deus, a saxophone contributes
the simpler chant which is alternated with the more complex
tropes sung by the choir.
John Voirol’s pieces
are intended to be comments on these pieces, their English titles
relate directly to the Latin sung by the choir. But Voirol does
not give us plainchant directly. Some pieces, such as Let
everyone rejoice the Lord and Let all the Earth praise
God seem to contain fragments of chant motives embedded
in their forms.
But often, Voirol’s
pieces seem to relate to the meaning of the words rather than
the contemplative nature of the chant itself. So Universe,
Stars, Infinity is a highly violent reaction to the preceding
Kyri cunctipotens genitor Deus; the jazz conjures up images
of the infinite from the title.
Much of the jazz
is melodic tonal but Alleluia, Benedict, the Man of
God, is advanced jazz full of squeaks and wails.
Which brings us
to a fundamental problem with this disc; for lovers of plainchant
there is probably too much jazz on the disc. And conversely,
for lovers of jazz there is too much plainchant. Only for lovers
of both can the two strands engage in the dialogue that the
discs’ creators intend.
Personally I found
the disc fascinating if not quite as riveting as intended. I
found myself looking at the jazz-inspired pieces from a structural
point of view, picking at their links to the music of the plainchant.
What I did not find in the jazz was the sort of contemplative
feel which the best performances of plainchant can bring.
This isn’t for everyone.
You have to be interested in both plainchant and modern jazz
to get the best out of this disc.