I must admit that I am an unabashed fan of The Roches, the talented family of singers and musicians from Greenwich Village who have put out a number of wonderful albums brimming with smarts and humor over the years. On this project, sister Terre Roche and pianist/arranger Garry Dial came up with one of the more novel ideas I've seen: to take national anthems from around the world and enlist a diverse cast of singers and musicians to record new and jazzed-up arrangements. Despite my appreciation of the Roche canon, I'll admit some trepidation at the thought of some of these nationalistic and often unwieldy tunes in this setting, but I really should have known better as the results are quite extraordinary.
Barbara Mendes starts things off with the anthem of Brazil that sounds more like another samba than a paean to a country, while Terre (and the backing musicians) turns the anthem of France into a free form exploration with jazz underneath and Roche-style harmonies above. A wide ranging line up of singers, chosen specifically for the song contribute: for example Sidiki Conde sings the anthem of Guinea, Levy Kaplan sings Israel's anthem, while Sanghamitra Chatterjee sings India's and Namgyal Yeshi sings the Tibetan anthem. A equally diverse group of musicians, including well known musicians like bassists Jay Anderson and Elvind Opsvik (on the Norwegian anthem of course), drummers John Riley and Joey Baron, and guitarist Vic Juris combine with less well-known, but talented musicians.
The music ranges from classical to jazz to world music and folk. And of course, the Roche sisters (Terre, Maggie and Suzzy Roche) make a wonderful appearance on the beautiful anthem of Czechoslovakia, where their harmonies float above Dial's classical piano and the string orchestra arranged by Dial and orchestrated/ conducted by Richard DeRosa, The song is a true highlight. Terre and Maggie also provide some lovely guitars and harmony on the Tibetan entry. And naturally, the Jamaican anthem is done reggae style.
Does music bring us together or divide us? Roche and Dial seem to be asking (among other things), but it seems if everyone listened to the music of other cultures and participated as the artists on this album have done, the world would certainly be a better place. Kudos to Dial and Roche for this great idea that has been brought to life so brilliantly. And don't miss the DVD accompanying the CD that provides further insight into this intriguing project.