The string ensemble is a format long pre-dating anything we typically enjoy on a contemporary level in today's popular consumption. But, this is obvious, and I don't dare insult you dear reader. At the helm of what could be considered contemporary string arrangement is the long standing institution that is The Kronos Quartet, the brainchild of director David Harrington, this year celebrating their 40th anniversary. Woah.
Being such a momentous event it only makes sense that the quartet celebrate in some capacity; and so we have before us A Thousand Thoughts. Compiling pieces from across fives albums, each focussing on a particular geographic region, the album stuns with potent imagery and silences even me with its beauty and command.
This unique angle on what could be considered a *cough* "greatest hits" drops the listener in various locations around the world, but never for more than one or two pieces before shaking it up and spinning the globe furiously (as if planting its finger, eyes closed, on a random new location). In fact, this erratic behaviour begins from the get go, opening with the calm, Swedish, 'Tusan Tankar' and, seemingly without thought drops into the radically different 'Dark Was The Night, Cold Was the Ground'.
Ultimately, it can be a little disrupting at times but after a few compositions the skittish nature of the track-list becomes somewhat of a pick'n'mix novelty of "I wonder where we could end up next!" It also stands to boast the real virtuosity of Harrington's ensemble (and their accompanying performers on many), alongside a deep, rich harvest of cultural heritage through global music.
A Thousand Thoughts is truly remarkable, one might dare argue, for how it stands as an impressive portfolio illuminating the diversity of the string ensemble as a musical format. Now, rather than seem like a complete novice by suggesting that the string quartet might need introducing to people, it should be noted that this is more a reference to the seeming penetration of The Kronos Quartet into the household. This is evident to many through their work on film scores, dabbles / relapses into 'contemporary' or 'popular' music and other various productions, of which few (if none at all) have gone unnoticed by the large. Chances are, if you were to name The Kronos Quartet to your average fellow they might not necessarily know them by name, but it wouldn't take much namedropping of their past comissions to help someone realise that they do in fact know the group very very well… and in a world of Juggalos and Beliebers, that's nice to know.
There truly is a plethora of wonderful music buried within A Thousand Thoughts, all written, performed and produced to such a remarkably high standard. There are moments of heart-breaking sadness, such as 'Eviç Taksim' (completely improvised in the Eviç Mode). There are moments of life and joy, like the traditional-Chinese 'The Round Sun and Crescent Moon in the Sky', performed with full, whooping choral ensemble. Yes, the arrangement is somewhat ham-handed, but it could be interpreted as a sort of catalogue, not only for the five albums this material was extracted, but also of the vast amounts of global music you probably haven't explored enough… and shame on your for it.
One final parting note is that if you, like myself and my girlfriend, and a great deal of friends, happen to truly despise the song 'Danny Boy' you must promise, nay swear! to me and to anyone else reading this that you'll roll right out to the end of A Thousand Thoughts for that infinitely redeeming vocal performance [courtesy of the incredible Don Walser]. This alone stands as the true perfect example of what this album is: not a work of meticulously chosen, carefully arranged movements that blossom into one another as a sole body, but rather a collage. This collage moves the heart and soul, through motions of despair and disbelief, through glee and curious nostalgia (somewhat akin to browsing an encyclopaedia)… and above all else, it made 'Danny Boy' fucking good. Bravo, Kronos Quartet! May you live on for many generations to come. Happy birthday, we love you.