Music

Yo-Yo Ma: Songs of Joy and Peace

Yo-Yo Ma approaches music of all genres with an equal magnanimity.


Yo-Yo Ma

Songs of Joy and Peace

Label: Sony
US Release Date: 2008-10-14
UK Release Date: 2008-10-13
Amazon
iTunes

Yo-Yo Ma, the prolific pop-classical cellist, has for a number of years capitalized on his position of relative eminence among classical performers. He's parlayed recognisability and goodwill into a solid, dependable consumer base who seem continuously delighted at the gentle expansions of scope Ma presents with his jazz, soundtrack and easy-listening collaborations. At the same time, it's a mark of Ma's own omnivorous taste that he's performing this "unserious" music at all. Throughout all of his Silk Road, Morricone, and even Brazilian and Japanese folk phases, he's approached every piece of music with a characteristic magnanimity. He does the same on the Christmas music that's woven through Songs of Joy and Peace. Ma bestows on even the most trite and staid melodies the respect accorded much more serious classical work.

Songs of Joy and Peace isn't a straightforward holiday album. Interspersed between staples like "Joy to the World", "My Favorite Things" and "Dona Nobis Pacem" (in three permutations), Ma offers us collaborations with a diverse array of boomer-approved performers, from Dave Brubeck to James Taylor. There's Taylor performing "Here Comes the Sun" and Hawaiian ukelele phenomenon Jake Shimabukuro on "Happy Xmas (War is Over)". The tracklist is obviously constructed for that oh-I've-heard-of-that waiting-in-line-at-Starbucks moment. As it plays, the album works as the sort of dinner-party accompaniment that occasionally piques an otherwise intermittent interest.

I'm certainly not sophisticated enough a classical music listener to critique Ma's idiosyncrasies of style and technique. And let's not forget that before he was a pop star, Ma was, and probably still is, regarded as one of the elder statesmen of cello performance in the world. Certainly his playing here is as crisp and economical as ever, these days, if his sensibility strays a little towards the maudlin. In these collaborations, too, Ma is often willing to play accompaniment to a more recognizable vocalist or charismatic instrumental frontman. Joshua Redman's saxophone on "My One and Only Love", for example, completely takes over the slippery atmosphere of the arrangement. It's part of Ma's modesty, perhaps. Only on his solo tracks, which are scattered across the album, does he allow himself small moments of virtuosity.

It is the jazz performers, such as the aforementioned Redman, Brubeck and trumpeter Chris Botti, who most hijack the direction of the album. The performances are uniformly precise, super-professional, and occasionally emotionally transporting. But often the limpid atmospheres of these light-jazz arrangements are strictly background-music. The vocalists Diana Krall, James Taylor, Alison Krauss and Renee Fleming likewise take starring roles, sometimes at the warbling expense of the music's directional movement. Krauss' straightforward rendition of "The Wexford Carol" may be the most overtly holiday moment on the album. It's a little out of place, but not unwelcome.

Songs of Joy and Peace, though occasionally transportive, seems a somewhat expected holiday release. It's not characteristic of Ma, and we could perhaps give him the benefit of doubt here. The album's not completely cynical, and has moments of lush pop-classical atmosphere as well as a sporadic glimpse at a cellist who still has the technique to inspire breathlessness.

5

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.