Nuevo, the newest CD from the Kronos Quartet, is a little like taking a tour of Mexico with film directors David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino as your guides. You don't speak Spanish, and neither do they, but through mutual gesticulations with the Mexican people, atmospheres of charm and harm are simultaneously established.
The CD was inspired by violinist David Harrington's experiences in Mexico City. He notes, "I became fascinated with this sense of the layering of things there – of time, of music, of culture, of art… you'd walk down the street and never know what you're going to hear next."
And indeed, on Nuevo, you never know what you're going to hear next. The "Bachelor Pad" pop stylings of Esquivel (hilariously recreated by Kronos and friends) rub elbows with an arrangement of Revueltas's compulsively sinister Sensemayá, enjoyably cartoonish music from a series of Mexican television programs, and homemade electronic music by Ariel Guzik played on the so-called "Plasmaht." When the CD comes to an end with a heavily sampled "dance remix" of traditional pop song El Sinaloense, one is barely surprised.
A fine example of postmodernism, Nuevo furthers blurs the distinction between performer and composer. Kronos's role on this CD is creative as well as recreative. More than just playing from a written score, Kronos synthesizes, improvises, cuts-and-pastes, obscures, clarifies, and hungrily embraces the new, the strange, and the unexpected. The instruments of the string quartet, that most traditional of classical institutions, are played in non-traditional ways and given non-traditional company. Kronos deserves to be congratulated: no two CDs by this ensemble are similar. Nuevo, with its volatile and eclectic contents – fun but maybe a little dangerous – further demonstrates Kronos's flexibility and creativity.
Sometimes projects like this one just seem faddish, but Nuevo has both authentic soul and authentic – pardon my language – cojones. The booklet, chock-full of photographs, is fun to look at, but it has not a word to say about the music. (I'm glad that Nonesuch sent me a press kit, or else I would be even more perplexed.) Definitely recommended, particularly over shots of tequila. Save the worm for me.
Copyright © 2002, Raymond Tuttle