Yo-Yo Ma: A Playlist Without Borders – Yo-Yo ma cond. The Silk Road Ensemble [TrackList follows] – Sony Masterworks  88883 71092-2, 1:16:36 (9/24/13) ***:

A Playlist without Borders is an interesting concept that musical explorers will like but the more conservative listeners will probably not enjoy.

Founded in 2000 by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the Silk Road Ensemble draws together distinguished performers and composers from more than 20 countries in Asia, Europe and the Americas. Since the Ensemble formed, these artists have eagerly explored contemporary musical crossroads.Their approach is self described as “experimental and democratic, founded on collaboration and risk taking, on continual learning and sharing”.

The CD has a collection of contemporary tunes drawn from diverse cultures. Some of the music is free-form in nature, with improvisations. It is eclectic in instrumentation, with instruments from different cultures combing to create a new whole: Cello and tabla. Galician bagpipe with the Chinese sheng. Clapping, chanting. You get the picture.

The first selection is the lengthiest, Playlist for an Extreme Occasion, an eight-movement piece by jazz pianist and composer Vijay Lyer.  The music is interesting, but not every track will resonate with every listener. I particularly liked the Allegretto from Partita, Op. 31 for Cello Solo by Ahmed Saygun, and the Atashgah by Colin Jacobsen.

The divergence of musical styles may not lend itself to a full sitting by many listeners, but that’s why the remote control was invented.

From a performance standpoint, these are excellent musicians, and you can tell there is a joy in the performance of this music. The recording is quite good, with very nice separation giving the ensemble a solid image spread between my stereo speakers. There are spacing highs and deep lows. It’s not demonstration quality material, but rather a fine recording that lends authority to the music.

Yo-Yo Ma is to be complimented for exploring these frontiers of musical expression, but this isn’t a CD for everyone.


1 Playlist For An Extreme Occasion: Part Zero
2 Playlist For An Extreme Occasion: Part One
3 Playlist For An Extreme Occasion: Part Two
4 Playlist For An Extreme Occasion: Part Three
5 Playlist For An Extreme Occasion: Part Four
6 Playlist For An Extreme Occasion: Part Five
7 Playlist For An Extreme Occasion: Cristina’s Interlude
8 Playlist For An Extreme Occasion: Part Six
9 Night Thoughts
10 Saidi Swing
11 Allegretto from Partita, Op. 31, for Cello Solo
12 Atashgah
13 Cut The Rug: Drag The Goat
14 Cut The Rug: Bury The Hatchet
15 Cut The Rug: Move The Earth
16 Cut The Rug: Wake The Dead
17 Briel

—Mel Martin