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Kosmos Ensemble perform their own vibrant compositions alongside original arrangements, bridging western classical music with music from other parts of the world. Sophisticated jazz glides seamlessly into wild Gypsy fiddling, emotive Jewish music into hot-blooded tango, Arabic and Turkish improvisation into Greek melodies.



"So why is this album called Pomegranate? Many reasons… it's powerful and symbolic - Persephone ate pomegranate seeds in Hades and that meant she had to stay in Hades and created the four seasons. It is argued that it was a pomegranate, not an apple, that tempted Eve, there are many references to pomegranates in the Old Testament and is important to Jewish cultural history. Pomegranate grows like a miracle out of dry dusty land, grows in most of the countries where we are taking our inspiration from and it is important and symbolic to nearly all those places. They are a fruit,  their juice is sweet but tart and they are used in both savoury dishes and desserts and they have large appeal and they are full of antioxidants that have a great benefit for all of us (like we hope our music has too…!)"

Here’s a strange chamber music album by the rather experimental Kosmos Ensemble featuring a bevy of traditional and through-composed tunes from the Middle East and Eastern Europe along with their own “takes” on such classical standards as Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending and Astor Piazzola’s Libertango. It’s certainly a strange mixture but a fascinating one. They are certainly a lively group which combine Eastern and Western classical elements, klezmer and jazz elements in their playing. The second piece on this CD, Burning Stones, was written by a founding and former member of the group, Laura Austee, and this one sounds so much like something the Turtle Island String Quartet would have done that I was delighted and surprised. Their Date Palms medley uses two Arabic pieces, to which they have added a hypnotic introductory taqsim in the form of an introductory improvisation. The music eventually becomes quite lively indeed, one might say an Arabic (possibly Sufi) version of a hora, except that cellist Smart gives the pulse a jazz-like beat. And the slightly wacky feeling continues into their transformation of the traditional Gypsy tune Dark Eyes, introducing polyphony and both shifting rhythms and harmony…including jazz rhythm beginning at 3:15 into the piece. It’s quite a trip! Next up is the Romanian tune Geamparale à la Kosmos, and here at last we hear our hyper accordion player Milivojević join the group for an uptempo romp. Smart plucks her cello like a jazz bassist, in a surprisingly slow tempo, at the start of their transformation of Paganini’s Caprice No. 24, here renamed Kosanini). The Italian violin wizard may not have liked what they do with it, but I’m sure he’d love the enthusiasm of their performance, which, again, includes Milivojević on the accordion. (Remember that Paganini once toured for a year with a Gypsy guitarist whom he adored, sort of a 19th-century Django Reinhardt.) The album wraps up with their own twist on Piazzola’s famous Libertango, here renamed Liberkleztango and played with far more energy than Piazzola normally gets. It’s also a lot more inventive than the original piece, with lots of weird violin glissandi tossed in for good measure. Sarikis returns on this one as percussionist, but although I liked it a lot I couldn’t actually say that it leaned too much in the klezmer direction. Still, this is one of those CDs that will pick up your spirits and have you smiling regardless of your mood or the world situation. It’s that rarity, feel-good music with a strong classical bias and a near-perfect fusion with folk, klezmer, Arabic music and jazz.

- Art Music Lounge

Blending Western classical stylistics and compositional techniques with tunes and sonorities from a mainly Mediterranean and Eastern European catchment, Kosmos Ensemble consist of Harriet Mackenzie on violin, Meg Hamilton on viola, Milos Milivojevic on accordian and Shirley Smart on cello, with Vasilis Sarikis guesting on percussion for a couple of tracks. This line-up creates a sound much like s string quartet but it is subverted by the addition of the accordian, providing a rich harmonic base and melodic lines that sit well with the strings.

The ensemble's method involves making unlikely combinations of tunes from diverse sources and fusing them together using a variety of clever compositional techniques. For example, in the ingenious 'The Lark', Vaughan Williams' serene bird meets iys manic Romanian counterpart 'Ciocarlia', they dance to a couple of Hungarian folk tunes and are later joined by Saint-Saens' swan. There's a dynamic arrangement of the Russian classic 'Dark Eyes', some romping Ukrainian dances and quite a few pieces that have been given the Piazzolla treatment. I'll let you imagine what 'Liberklezango' sounds like. All of this is delivered with stunning virtuosity and sensitive attention to stylistic details. 

Tom Newell (Songlines)