(2009, Skinny Tie Records)
The first thing you may notice is that this ensemble’s name consists of both Spanish and Latin words—Madera (wood) and Vox (voice). There’s your opening peek into the mixed bag you’re about to receive: Madera Vox likes a twist, easing you in gradually and then thwacking you over the head with an oddball choice of repertoire. From this contemporary chamber group’s classically trained base it sets off into terra incognita with powerful and disciplined technique. A mosaic of originals and covers, this self-titled debut starts off easy with “La Douceur de la Vie,” a gentle, rolling instrumental of oboe, bassoon, piano, percussion, and, eventually, operatic vocals that sounds straight off a movie score. Next are four unexpected instrumental children’s songs by jazz fusion pioneer Chick Corea that range from gentle to dramatic.
At the core of this recording is the smoky cabaret of “Youkali” and “I’m a Stranger Here Myself,” both by composer Kurt Weill, the latter being a collaboration with poet Ogden Nash. Following a pensive piano tune, “Jeux d’Eau” by Ravel, and more Weill/Gershwin (“My Ship,” “The River Is So Blue”), the CD wraps up with the boisterous and surreal “Lobster Telephone” by the ensemble’s own composer and arranger, David Gluck. Word has it that Madera Vox also tackles Andre Previn, Thelonious Monk, and Kurt Cobain, so it seems this eclectic group of conservatory-level performers/academics leans toward composers as unconventional and kaleidoscopic as it gets. www.maderavox.org.