China gates

Thomas Tallis' Spem in Alium to a contemporary Chinese composer's improvisation inspired by a leading English football player is a pretty brave leap to make. At a time when being sensible is the new fashion, independent record label Coro are venturing well off the beaten path. Coro was founded in 2001 by choral ensemble The Sixteen and their founder Harry Christophers to re-issue the ensemble's back-catalaogue and release their new recordings, including a new version of Tallis' celebrated 40-part motet in surround sound. But last year Coro demonstrated their independent way of thinking by also launching a new world music label.

One of the first releases on the new label, Acoustic World China, combines top musicians, outstanding sound (all instruments are acoustic), and music ranging from traditional to contemporary. The programme is built around four exponents of different living Chinese music traditions. Lin Youren plays the contemplative qin zither in traditional tunes and in his Improvisation for Michael Owen. The latter piece was inspired by the singing in the pub where the composer watched England play Argentina in the 1998 World Cup. Best know among the four musicians is pipa player Wu Man who featured here recently on a new Terry Riley CD. A former Buddhist monk, Li Jinwen , leads the Tianjin Buddhist Music Ensemble in 'sheng-guan' temple and folk music for wind and percussion forces. And Xuan Ke and the Dayan Ancient Music Association play ritual religous music.

Tallis to Tianjin is a pretty bold step. So I asked Cath Edwards, label manager at The Sixteen about the thinking behind Acoustic World in an exclusive Overgrown Path interview:

OAOP - Coro is seen as a 'western classical' label - why the move into world music?

CE- We have been gradually expanding the scope of the recordings available on CORO within the classical/choral field for a little while now and have released discs with the likes of Sarah Connolly, Elin Manahan Thomas, Le Jardin Secret and the Hilliard Ensemble in recent years. The majority of the recordings we release are still by The Sixteen, but we wanted to expand our repertoire to attract new and different audiences to CORO and in turn to the work of The Sixteen.

OAOP - The first Acoustic World releases are reissues of excellent Nimbus recordings. Will the series be licensing its releases from other labels, or will their be new recordings?

CE - We discovered these Nimbus discs some time ago now and felt that they were the perfect complement to the music already on the CORO label. The music featured epitomizes CORO’s values of excellence of performance, authentic instruments, brilliance of sound and world class musicians and we wanted to get these wonderful recordings back out into the public eye. We have six releases planned at the moment (four already available and two in early 2009) but the Nimbus catalogue of world music is so extensive that we may release more titles depending on how our initial six are received. So far the response has been pretty positive. We don’t have any plans at present to licence tracks from other labels for this series and there are no plans for new recordings at the moment.

OAOP - Philip Glass said 'world music is the new classical'. Any plans for world music projects involving The Sixteen?

CE - Philip Glass’s comment is interesting indeed, and we hope there might be some crossover within our current audience for our world music series (and vice versa). The Sixteen has done a bit of crossover work in the past working with the likes of Damon Albarn and Sigur Rós, so who knows what the future holds. But at present The Sixteen is concentrating on it’s 30th Anniversary year in 2009, and new recordings of Handel’s Coronation Anthems due for release in February, a new disc of Purcell and MacMillan which will be out in April, and a new recording of Handel’s Dixit Dominus and Steffani’s Stabat Mater which will be released in late 2009.

OAOP - Can you give Overgrown Path readers details of the Acoustic World titles, what are the release dates and the pricing?

CE - So far there are four titles: Brazil (May 2008), China (June 2008), Ireland and Persia (both October 2008). In 2009 we plan to release Flamenco (March) and India (May). UK retail price is around £10.50, and the discs are available from the usual stores, or direct from us.
The Acoustic World series is yet another example of an independent label showing the corporate majors how it should be done. The series avoids any new age trappings, and presents imaginative and challenging music. The programmes are compiled by Robin Tyson at Podium Music, and are remastered in outstanding sound by Floating Earth. Particular praise is due for Robin Tyson's exemplary sleeve notes. But I am not sure if the slick sleeve designs, see below, do this excellent series justice. Musically Acoustic World is streets ahead of the Rough Guide world music series, so why use Rough Guide look-alike graphics? But it is the music that really matters, and Coro has got that exactly right with Acoustic World. Visit their website for samples.

China Gates by John Adams is in the essential Minimal Piano Collection. As I write details of Image China: Chinese New Year Concert 2009 at the Kennedy Center, Washington arrive from renaissance man Garth Trinkl. More music beyond borders here.

A copy of Acoustic World China was supplied free of charge by Coro at my request. Header photo taken by me in Chinatown London yesterday and is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Unknown said…
I'm a buyer for a record shop that sells a fair amount of world music, and I must say that generic sleeve designs like that probably kill an albums chances of selling by at least ninety-percent I'm afraid, no matter how wonderful the music is.
Pliable said…
Jenny, thanks for that. Your email confirms my view. It seems a pity to use a generic design when the Acoustic World series features such fine living musicians whose photographs must be available.
John Bickley said…
This is not - for once - one of my 'fantastically tenuous links', and I must declare an interest as a director of The Sixteen Productions, which produces the CORO CDs. I am glad to see the debate about cover designs (I am, of course, very glad also to see the positive comments about the contents of our Acoustic World series!): it seems to me to be such a subjective issue (look at the changing trends in book covers). If one could identify the perfect cover to shift the maximum number of CDs, well, how cool would that be? It would be great to see people's suggestions of the best and worst covers in their collections, with an honest appraisal of whether they affected their purchasing decisions.
Pliable said…
John's comment above just can't linger as a footnote. So I've upgraded it ae new post. Please add nominations for best and worst cover art and your views on whether it affects purchasing decisions here -
Unknown said…
John, With all due respect I'm not sure the issue of design is always such a subjective issue, most of us know good design when we see it. There is literally a deluge of new releases every month from countless distributers, even as the market for new compact discs continues to slide, and the inattention to detail when it comes to the look of the album design is hugely frustrating. If the packaging on a disc isn't compelling it probably won't even make it into our store because we just can't afford to hope that maybe, possibly, somebody will pick it up and determine that it's somehow worthwhile. A glossy photo of some shamrocks does not immediately make me think that this is the music from Ireland I need. Just to stick to the world of world music, you can find great design on the recent Stern's African reissues, many of the Smithsonian Folkways new releases, the Prophet reissues of classic Ocora lps (which also had compelling design), The Nonesuch Explorer relaunch, as well as the gigantic Topic catalog. They look good and sell themselves. I own a number of great Coro albums and love what you guys do, and really only want to see you guys sell as many albums as possible, so sorry if this seems like a rant. Lord knows there are some records I love with god-awful graphics, but I honestly can't tell you how many times I've seen a customer balk at a release that wasn't visually compelling.

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