Voxfire ets medieval music in a modern setting making a millennial masterpiece


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I did not really know what to expect when I decided to listen to the group Voxfire and their new album FONTIS. I read that they sing in ancient languages, but the music has modern instrumentation. Very true. There are three vocalists (apparently all sopranos, or close to it, and they all sound fairly similar) -- Samela Aird Beasom, Christen Herman and Susan Judy. Their voices are gorgeous. They sing in medieval dialects that were used in Spain and France in the 12th-to-14th-centuries – Latin, Galician-Portuguese, Provencal-Occitan, Ladino (Judeo-Spanish), and Arabic. All three ladies have deep experience in this field. Their overlapping list of credits include singing with the Roger Wagner Chorale, I Cantori, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group, L.A. Opera, Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra, Los Angeles Cambridge Singers, Millennium Consort, Musica Pacifica, the Los Angeles Chamber Singers & Cappella, and American Bach Soloists. The three singers made two albums and then a couple of years ago hooked up with a pair of eclectic instrumentalists, arrangers and producers -- Nick DePinna and Ross Garren. DePinna performs on trombone, ukelele, piano, synthesizer, percussion, live effects processing and more. Garren plays piano, harmonica, electric piano, organ, synthesizer, accordion and other instruments. There also are a couple of guests helping out with sax, flute, trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion and drums.

Some of the tunes sound like they were recorded in medieval times in some European cathedral with choir-like voices echoing off a stone vaulted ceiling. Other pieces are very avant-garde -- a mix of modern classical and offbeat jazz. In addition there are numbers that are very melodic. Both the lyrics and the music notes come from nearly a hundred years ago, and is as best as can be interpreted by modern musicologists poring over ancient manuscripts -- some written before modern musical notation was invented. So some of the strangeness of the sounds comes from the modern musicians, but some may be inherent in the fact that the music itself originated in another time -- maybe this was the “pop music” of that day and age.

The bottom-line is that the music sounds good, cool (like cool jazz), refreshingly-different and very pleasant to listen to. Since the music is not quite strictly classical (especially with instrumentation such as sax and harmonica and synth), not really world music (although the foreign languages add some of that element) and not quite folk or jazz, it seems that the genre of new age music is left holding the bag, and that is ok. After all, since most modern-day audiences will not understand the languages (speakers of Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic or Latin may pick up on some words), the singers might as well be singing vocalese or vocalized sounds or a made-up language, and those forms (as well as chant and numerous non-English singing productions) have been embraced in the new age arena over the past several decades.

This album is recommended not just for aficionados of “early music” or medieval art, but for anyone who is interested in hearing the bridging of old and new, plus fans of beautiful female singing in a new age style and setting. It may not change your life, but this music may just make you pause and think about where modern singing came from and how it fits into today’s world. More information is available at the group’s website (voxfire.band).
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