Philip Glass's Latest (and Most Unusual) Collaboration

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No wonder Philip Glass has collaborated with musicians from every continent on Earth: the very seed of his famous musical style was an early gig assisting sitarist Ravi Shankar on a film soundtrack, when Shankar's explanation of Indian rhythmic structures inspired the arithmetical processes that govern the gradual unfolding of Glass's melodic patterns.

Almost half a century later, Glass has long realized that the features of this style are elementally simple enough to adapt to any number of non-European musics, from the kora to the didjeridoo, like a sort of ethnomusicological little black dress, wearable with anything, for any occasion.

The latest meeting between Philip Glass and musicians from outside the Western classical tradition to find a CD release is his "Concert of the Sixth Sun" with Daniel Medina de la Rosa and Roberto Carillo Cocío, a singer/violinist and a guitarist – respectively – from the Wixarika culture of Mexico, and the album is easily the most unusual collaboration in his long and prolific history of cross-cultural projects.

The Wixarika elements in the music have almost nothing in common with Glass's, other than a certain penchant for repetition. Their modes and harmonies are even more narrowly focused, and their guitar and fiddle make a far brighter, more piquant sound than their European counterparts. Glass's sparing contributions on piano often disappear into the background.

The "Sixth Sun" record is also far looser than his usual collaborations, as if his contributions were improvised rather than composed. Here he adds an unexpected minor chord, casting a subtle shadow over the bright vocal melody, and there he inserts a vamping figure between refrains, but this is not a Philip Glass show. It feels more like a jam session among a trio of musical friends, one of whom happens to live a long, long way to the north.

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