Start with a women’s singing trio fascinated with medieval music. Add multi-talented instrumentalists and a willingness to experiment with musical genres and you get Voxfire’s new CD “Fontis.” This music is like nothing you’ve ever heard before. Founding vocalists Samela Aird Beasom, Christen Herman and Susan Judy present a range of 12th to 14th century songs from Spain and France, sung in the original languages. Musicians Nick DePinna and Ross Garren add the accompaniment, which has a big variety of instrumental textures and borrows from jazz, folk, classical, pop-rock, new age, and avant-garde genres.
The album opens with the title track “Fontis.” The listener is in no doubt from the opening measures that this is something utterly different, new, and fascinating. The trio’s singing is supported by a sophisticated jazz harmonic progression.
Voxfire cuts loose on Track 4: Sen Calar. The song’s roots are Celtic-Scots-Irish dance music, but instead of the bagpipe one might expect, the track opens with a harmonica solo. Once the singing starts, there are strong percussion elements from the start in frisky ¾ time. The song is a ballad of praise to Mary, but it escalates to the kind of spiritual ecstasy one might more easily expect from a ballad for Cernunnos. A funky bass line sneaks into the mix, and when the musical segue between verses hits, a full rock drum kit, played by Jens Kuross, blasts into the mix.
Track 6: Laudemus I changes gears. This pilgrim’s song is a round, with the three voices following one another with the melody in turn. The accompaniment is drawn from modern abstract composition techniques, but once again, that full drum kit is quietly lurking in the background driving the song forward with arrhythmic beats reminiscent of early Tony Williams (Miles Davis’s young prodigy drummer during the late 1960s in the early days of rock-jazz fusion).
The extent of creativity and experimentation on this album is breath-taking and worth multiple hearings. People who wants something truly new and different but extremely attractive from a musical standpoint should get this album. An interest in medieval music might make this music more accessible for listeners, but isn’t necessary for appreciating it. I found it utterly mind-blowing. Thought I’d heard everything, but it turns out I hadn’t heard this. Props to the mad musical alchemists in their laboratory of sounds. Highly recommended!
~review by Elizabeth Hazel
2019, Orenda Records
13 tracks, 59:41 min.
CD $16.36, MP3 $9.49.