Inquiries into the early years of SJI

Monday, March 7, 2016

Yo Yo Ma, Rhiannon Giddens, Michael Ward-Bergeman, The Silk Road Ensemble, and St. James Infirmary!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Readers of this blog might recall an entry, three years ago, about a gypsy variation of St. James Infirmary.  The New Orleans composer, accordionist (well, multi-instrumentalist), and performer Michael Ward-Bergeman wrote to me back then: "when I started doing 'St. James' I always felt there was a gypsy music connection both spirit and music-wise." As you can hear on his GIG 365 CD, "St. James Infirmary" sounds ready-made for gypsy musicians. As in much Roma music this SJI begins slow and melancholy, eventually opening into an exuberant, energizing celebration of life that will have you dancing in the streets (or in your living room) - reminiscent of New Orleans funeral music, although with different instrumentation.

Yo Yo Ma and his Silk Road Project commissioned Ward-Bergeman to arrange a version for them. With Yo Yo Ma on cello, Ward-Bergeman on accordion, the Silk Road Ensemble on an assortment of world instruments (for instance, the Roma cymbalom was replaced with a combination of marimba and yangqin, a Chinese hammered dulcimer), and Rhiannon Giddens on vocals, they collaborated on a penetrating version of SJI that transcends both time and place.

The musicians of Silk Road Ensemble are international and eclectic, presenting an amalgam of music that reflects our multicultural world. This new album from Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble will be available April 22. Called Sing Me Home, guest artists include many favourites of mine, including African Kora master Toumani Diabete, North Indian sitarist Shujaat Khan, U.S. banjoist Abigail Washburn, and many many other outstanding musicians from around the globe.

As a taste, here is a just-released video of Yo Yo Ma, Rhiannon Giddens, Michael Ward-Bergeman, and the Silk Road Ensemble performing St. James Infirmary. If this is any indication, the album will be outstanding!


(If you double-click on the video below, you can see it in its proper proportion.)