© Les disques URSH
“Ame, corps et desir is a rare gem, woven with so much finesse and sensitivity. To keep at hand and to listen during dark days, to chase away those clouds."
—Walter Boudreau, artistic director of Society of Contemporary Music of Quebec, who considered Ame, corps et desir among the top 3 classical albums to buy in 2007 (Voir Magazine)
“Ame, corps et desir is one of these albums that give us shivers as we listen and discover its audacity. Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377) the composer and poet who inspired this project, would likely have considered Karen Young a true spiritual heiress.”
—Dominique Denis, l'Express de Toronto
The Middle Ages have fascinated me since long before I discovered the music in the 80’s, when I was investigating Early Music in the McGill Library. This was Ars nova, the “new art”, forbidden by the Church to be used in sacred music. So it was taken over by the poets, the troubadours.
After gobbling up all those songs and for years dreaming to sing them, I recently returned to them as a new, downsized vehicule for the Canticum canticorum gang. I wanted to see if these songs could be done in a sort of fusion of my soul – classical – and of my experience — jazz — to see what would happen if I put the mostly three-part vocals, sung by classical singers (and one jazz singer) over a rhythm section, with a sprinkling of improvisation. The singers try to be true to the “hoquet” style, which accentuates the rhythms, and there are no operatic vibratos that would bury the ornate melodies. The bass strengthens the modal aspect of the music. Together bass and drums create the atmosphere in which the voices soar, without obscuring the complex polyphony of the Ars nova style.
This record is dedicated to Guillaume de Machaut,“la fleur des fleurs”, the last troubadour. In a musical way, I’ve been having a tryst with him, writing fantasies, or variations on his themes. His poetry is that of the troubadour, describing his pain of unrequited, chivalrous love; that in never attaining our desire, it always remains beautiful and inspires great art. Ame, corps et desir (Soul, body and desire) is taken from his song Ploures dames, in which he claims his whole reason to live was to worship God and Woman, whose beauty was created by god. To me this is the swan song of Guillaume de Machaut, who died in 1377, and of the age of chivalry.
As I listened to Machaut, I couldn’t ignore what was going on in Italy at the same time. This was Trecento, the same birth pangs of the Renaissance, or fireworks announcing the death of the Middle Ages. Here the brightest star was Francesco Landini, blind poet and organ player. But I found many other composers whom I also loved. These composers have been associated with the Decameron, a book of erotic stories about Florence in the time of the Black Plague. It seems that the grim reper encouraged lovers to live more in the moment. It was hard to choose, and so what started out as a few Landini songs to offset Machaut became a double album. I call this one Ongni dilecto (Each delight), which each song is for me.
On both albums we have music from the first, second and third generation of the 14th century. Jehan de Lescurel was hung for debauchery in 1304, his song, interpreted by Josée, a fitting epitaph. Magister Piero and Jacopo da Bologna were the first generation of Trecento writers. Francesco Landini, Guillaume de Machaut and Lorenzo da Firense were at the height of the Ars nova style, to be succeeded by Ars subtilior at the end of the century. Jacob Senleches is the shining example in France, and Matteo da Perugia and Antonius da Teramo in Italy.
This is a labour of love, more symbolic than musicological. This whole album was conceived for the extreme pleasure of paying tribute to the music that has touched me so deeply.
Arrangement, voice — Karen Young
Arrangement, instruments — Karen Young, Eric Auclair, Pierre Tanguay
(Arrangement for Abundance de felonnie and Navay del — Josee Lalonde, Pierre Tanguay)
Charts — Karen Young, Josee Lalonde
Dan Cabena — counter-tenor
Marcel de Hetre — tenor
Josée Lalonde — alto
Karen Young — mezzo
Phil Dutton — tenor (CD1: 6)
Normand Richard — baritone (CD2: 8, 11, 14))
Carole Therrien — soprano (CD2: 8, 11, 14)
Éric Auclair — electric, acoustic, and percussive bass
Pierre Tanguay — drums and percussion
Sylvain Provost — guitar (CD1: 2, 7)
Recorded at Studio 270
Engineers — Robert Langlois, Bernard Grenon
Mix — Karen Young, Robert Langlois, Éric Auclair
Mastering — Guy Hébert, Karisma
Design — Susan Valyi
Photography — Michel Pinault
Karen Young between soul and flesh
Dominique Denis, L'Express de Toronto
For more than thirty years the Montreal singer Karen Young has been blazing new trails on the margins of what is considered jazz vocals. If she seems relatively marginal to the fans of Harry Connick and Diana Krall, it's the followers of jazz as music of exploration that will win with this album.
With Âme, corps et désir (URSH/Select) which seems to be the next step of the ambitious Canticum canticorum, she renews her fusion of jazz and Ars nova (“new art”) medieval, marrying the 14th and the 21st centuries, written music and improvisation, soul and flesh.
Placing these polyphonic flights into a jazz pulse, as well as rock guitar, this former member of Studio of Early Music of Montreal (Studio de Musique Ancienne de Montréal) has helped us realize that Ars nova isn't necessarily purely Eurocentric. At times Karen's flights seem to owe more to Soufi voices than to the European tradition. It is easy to see in this music what incited the Vatican to forbid its performance in sacred music.
If it sounds a little strange at first listening, Âme, corps et désir is among those albums that gives us shivers as we listen and discover its audacity. Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377) the composer and poet who inspired this project, would likely have considered Karen Young a dignified spiritual heiress.