Heavenly voices stir up plenty of emotion

  • 2004-03-04
  • By Elizabeth Celms
RIGA - It's stay-in-bed-until noon music. It's Sunday- morning-coffee-and-muffin music. It's lazy-afternoon lullaby music. The rich harmony of the a capella group Cosmos' voices will put you to sleep - or at least into a dreamy daze.

A young and contemporary group of five talented Rigas Doma Kora Skola (Riga's Dome Choir School) graduates, Cosmos transforms well-loved Latvian folk songs and nationally popular compositions by Raimonds Pauls, Imants Kalnins and Prata Vetra's Renars Kaupers into unique vocal arrangements of a capella.
The first of what predictably will be several albums combines a balanced variety of contemporary academic music, jazz, soul and pop. Together, the two countertenors Janis Sipkevics and Andris Sejans, tenor Juris Lisenko, baritone Janis Ozols and bass Janis Stradzins are able to hit possibly every tonal range from bass to soprano. Their talent is at the least, respectable and at the most, awe-inspiring. Although the gel-haired pretty boys may look the part, they are clearly no European boy band.
Arguably one of the most enchanting songs on the album, which held the number two spot for several weeks on Radio SWH, is Ainars Mielavs' "Savilnoji Mani" (You Stir Me). With much care and delicacy, Cosmos has taken this Latvian favorite and turned it into a captivating composition of rich lead vocals swimming through a bubbly Bobby McFerrinlike background. The title couldn't be more appropriate. The Cosmos arrangement of this love song is indeed stirring.
Another song, equally as moving as the first, is Imants Kalnins' "Dudievins" (Demigod), a traditionally Latvian and poetically whimsical lullaby. The range of vocals from deep bass to Michael Jackson tenor is impressive to say the least. The song has a dreamlike enchantment to it and is hypnotic enough to cure the worst Sunday morning hangover.
The song where the quintet really flex their vocal cords is "Tautas Laiks" (The People's Time). Perhaps the deepest and richest choral song on the album, their voices are almost haunting at times. The background tenors are especially chilling since they carry an echo that could only be created by towering cathedral ceilings.
Other songs on the album include a unique arrangement of a capella soul, jazz and choral hymns with even a splash of beat boxing.
Luckily for us, in only one song does the group come close to fitting that ridiculous barbershop quintet a capella style. I can only imagine that this annoying upbeat jingle was added as a tribute to the founders of this musical art. If anything, the song reminds us of just how far a capella has come. Go and treat your ears.

Cosmos (Upe Records)
is available at Upe Records, Randoms and all other
good music stores