World music? Crossover? Forget the categories! This recording, which began with ethnomusicologists spending three years collecting material from composers and musicians in China and Central Asia, is such an enlightening, ingratiating fusion of diverse influences that pigeonholers have no choice but to bow before its inspired delights.
The disc's 12 tracks offer an international assemblage of 23 musicians, led by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, performing traditional and modern works that reflect influences from Mongolia, China, Persia, Finland, Japan, Iran, Italy, and 21st-century performance practice. The most far-out piece is Franghiz Ali-Zadeh's Habil-Sayagy, inspired by the traditional music of Azerbaijan and the avant-garde experiments of American John Cage. Also mind-blowing is the opening Mongolian traditional "long song" (used at athletic festivals), featuring vocalist Ganbaatar Khongorzul scaling the sonic heights. Not only can she cut through glass without leaving a single shard behind, she's also capable of modulating volume and timbre with a mastery that will leave most singers envious. It's a fabulous beginning to a wonderful disc. Jason Serinus
The Seattle Symphony begins a five-night performance of the Silk Road Project at Benaroya Hall on Sun., May 12 at 7:30 p.m.