Cloud Valley

Andrew Cronshaw is a known musical writer and zither player. On his latest album, it is not the traveling Englishman Cronshaw who investigates foreign music like that of the Balkans or Finland. This time he investigates his own land's heritage - the traditional English song. Seven of them are explored on the album Ochre together with Abdullah Chhadeh on quanun and oud, Ian Blake on reeds and piano, Richard O'Neill bass, Llio Rhydderch on triple harp, Mathaios Tsahourides on lyra and Natacha Atlas on vocals.

Cronshaw's brilliant-sounding electrified 74-string zither is subtly aided by Chhadeh's qanun, the Egyptian version of a hammered dulcimer. Together both related instruments create a mystic soundscape on a song called "The Colour of the Rose".

Cronshaw not only has mastered the zither, he also plays a variety of wind instruments like the harmonic flute on "Lucy Wan". Even more instruments appear on "The Shores of Turkey" where Cronshaw augments his zither with the dizi (a Chinese flute), the quenacho (a flute from the Andes), the ba-wu (a transverse-blown Chinese flute) and the fujara (a huge shepherd's flute). These flutes are then combined with sax and double bass. The result is a meditative listening experience. Another mostly unknown but very interesting instrument is the Gu-Cheng, a Chinese version of the zither, oblong in shape and stringed with 18 to 22 steel strings. Cronshaw's version of "No trust in a Man" gets a very Asian touch even though the other instruments on this song are a Western double bass and clarinet.

The voice of the Belgian/Egyptian singer Natacha Atlas completely transforms the English traditional "Sofia, the Saracen's Daughter" into a Middle Eastern number. She even translated the lyrics into an Arab tongue to render the song completely different, unrecognizable even. Ochre is thus a far cry from a recording of traditional material. All arrangements have been attended to with great care and approach these traditional English songs from unexpected and unique angles.