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Anika Kildegaard & Jean-François Charles — Missa Brevis Abbaye de Th​é​l​è​me
(Bandcamp New Flore Music 003, 2024, CD / DL)

by Jon Davis, Published 2024-06-24

Missa Brevis Abbaye de Th​é​l​è​me Cover art

By way of introduction, Anika Kildegaard is a vocalist who is known as a vigorous promoter of new music, a powerful soprano whose repertoire ranges from Mozart operas to newly-commissioned work by contemporary composers. Jean-François Charles is one of those composers, an assistant professor in composition and digital arts at the University of Iowa, where Kildegaard received her MA in 2020. The music on Missa Brevis Abbaye de Thélème is in the form of a traditional Catholic mass, though it is far from traditional in presentation. If you had to fill out a questionnaire describing the album and there was a multiple choice question to select the genre, the only valid answer would be All of the Above. The “Introitus” is a wild free-form collage of electronic noises, metallic percussion, saxophone honks, rhythmic picking from an electric guitar, scrapes on double bass, and more. But don’t let that set any expectations — the “Kyrie” jumps in on a hip-hop beat with serene female vocals singing in Latin, then Kildegaard rapping forcefully in French with lyrics taken from… François Rabelais! The middle section brings in rapper Jhe Russell with rhymes like I’ve never heard: “Here, enter not, twisted zealot! You top dog? You big shot? Vamoose! Rapscallion, tatterdemalion, Mudlark and bone-grubber!” OK, so there aren’t many actual rhymes in there, but it’s delivered with the spirit of a champion poetry-slammer. This is an English translation of the Rabelais original, and how it relates to “Lord, have mercy” is an exercise left to the listener. The one constant in the album is the use of classic secular French poetry for lyrics. The “Gloria” is a tuneful ballad with acoustic guitar, kalimba, and a lovely melody with lyrics from Marceline Desbordes-Valmore; the “Credo” ventures into funk, pairing words by Paul Verlaine with wah-wah guitar; for the “Sanctus” we get dramatic drums and long tones on brass backing Kildegaard’s singing of the words by Arthur Rimbaud, which are then spoken by Jhe in English; the “Benedictus” features weird electronics reminiscent of the “Introitus,” then backs Charles Baudelaire (both sung and spoken) with a cool electronic rock beat; and the “Agnus Dei” moves even further into the electronics, backing the words of François Villon with somewhat warped dance beats. There are also two more instrumental interludes which follow in the footsteps of the opening track. The whole album drips with anything-goes creativity, and listeners willing to just go with the schizophrenic flow should find a lot to enjoy here, from Kildegaard’s versatile voice to Charles’ inventive compositions.

Filed under: New releases, 2024 releases

Related artist(s): Anika Kildegaard & Jean-François Charles

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