I usually run away screaming when I hear a description including the word “fusion”, e.g., of food or music. I’ve never heard that word applied to the Kronos Quartet‘s eclectic works, though their ability to fuse the string quartet with other forms is nearly foolproof. Yesterday’s performance with Bollywood singer Asha Bhosle and pipa (Chinese lute) player Wu Man was a case in point.
Terry Riley‘s The Cusp of Magic filled the first half of the concert. Judging by that performance only, one would have to believe that a pipa/violin/violin/viola/cello quintet was a standard arrangement. Wu Man played beautifully and in unity with Kronos, never triggering an annoying thought of “oh, now we hear the ‘eastern’ bit.”
The second half, featuring songs by Rahul Dev Burman performed by Asha Boshle, Kronos, Wu Man, and Debopriyo Sarkar on tabla, was equally successful, with the musicians ably replacing an entire orchestra. A few seconds after Boshle started singing Nihcole whispered to me that “she’s the one we hear in all those films.” I haven’t really seen all that much Bollywood, but it’s true, her voice is immediately familiar. Supposedly she has recorded 20,000 songs in her sixty year career. That’s almost one song every single day for six decades. Hard to believe. She looks and sounds nothing like 72.
Each time I hear Kronos perform I am happy, both because I love their music and they make me feel a bit sentimental. The first musical event I ever attended of my own accord was their early 1989 performance at the Krannert Center, where I believe they played Riley’s In C, John Zorn‘s Cat O’ Nine Tails and Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze. When I finally bought a CD player, also in 1989, Kronos’ Winter Was Hard was one of my first discs (I bought the Pixies’ Surfer Rosa/Come On Pilgrim and Bongwater’s Double Bummer+ at the same time).
So, why does fusion denote abomination and electicism beauty?