Harmonia Mundi, HMA 1951497
label website

Born in Deir-El-Ahmar, Sister Marie Keyrouz belongs to the Lebanese community of the Order of the Sisters of Basil. With a higher diploma in Religious Studies from the Beirut University of Saint Joseph, another in musicology and western and oriental plainsong from the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik and a doctorate in musicology and religious anthropology from the Sorbonne in Paris, she's formally studied Byzantine and Gregorian chants for 10 years and is now considered one of the preeminent vocalists in the Greek Orthodox lithurgical tradition. Other available recordings on Harmonia Mundi include Chant Byzantin, [901315] and Cantiques de l'Orient [901577]. Her latest, Psaumes Pour Le 3ème Millénaire, appeared on Virgin Classics [545455] two years ago.

To get a fix on Keyrouz' otherworldly mastery, think Indian violinist L. Subramaniam on "Weeping Soul" or "Wandering Saint" [Beyond, New Earth 3-931254291]. Replace Carnathic raga scales with Pythagorean diatonism and tetrachords, the violin with voice, the drone of the tambura with choral pedals. Safe for stylistic differences, you've now arrived at the same depth of Otherness, the same suspension of unresolved harmonic tensions, the same purity of intonation, power of universal poetry and accompanying flavor of far-gone meditative states. Like all her albums, Chants sacrés showcases the ancient connection between Spirit and breath, how the body conducts and magnifies the incoming spirit power and manifests this communion as songs of praise, benediction and contemplation.

Like Bach, Messiaen and Scriabin, Soeur Marie casts her net far into impersonal cosmic realms, albeit on distinctly Eastern classical terms. Those don't numerically divide octaves into merely well-tempered tones and semitones but add emphatic micro intervals. Set to Arabic lyrics though much of the material has Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Syriac and Latin roots, with a complete absence of rhythmic counterpoint, it's just one achingly pure, crystalline voice hovering with cool passion over the anchoring bass drones. Listening to Keyrouz is like entering a mosque or temple for service. The world recedes outside the doors, intention and attention are inversed, the myths of Pentecost and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin become the framework that build an aural Jacob's ladder to the stars. Azam Ali, lead singer of Vas, calls Keyrouz her greatest inspiration. Find out why - but don't approach these sacred hymns unprepared. It's introspective music, not entertainment. To taste of its magic, you must bow your head and make yourself available. Then Marie's voice becomes your guide into a different world that requires no beliefs of any kind, merely sympathy for the Divine in its non-manifest form as Logos - about as transcendental as music can get before it must submit to pure silence.