Dudley Benson: Forest, Songs by Hirini Melbourne (Golden Retriever)

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Dudley Benson: Tirairaka. Fantail
Dudley Benson: Forest, Songs by Hirini Melbourne (Golden Retriever)

Those many of us seduced by Dudley Benson's previous album (and EPs which preceded it) might not have anticipated the manner of this new one, an entirely a capella art music project based on the poems (birds, the spider) by the late Hirini Melbourne who, with Richard Nunns, led the revival of taonga puoru (tradional Maori instruments) . . . and it is sung almost entirely in te reo (Maori).

These gentle poems sung by Benson and his a cappella outfit The Dawn Chorus are also accompanied in places by King Homeboy on gentle beat-box sounds. And Gerry Findlay adds discreet, convincing bird calls in two pieces.

There is lightly choral feel in some songs (the holy sounding Pipiwharauroa/Shining Cuckoo where the choir repeat a lovely minimalist phrase in the manner of Meredith Monk). But Ruru -- in English -- comes off like a rather mannered rap which doesn't entirely work, and ends with Nunns introducing the sound of some taonga pouru which sounds a little perfunctory.Joshua_Thomas___Hanna_Lee__2010

Because this is so gentle and poised, it is very enticing and the final track Kiwi, a 10 minute tone poem and subtitled a lament for Aotearoa, is exceptional. A real holy moment where quiet speaks volumes and Benson's voice at times sounds close to anguish and tears.

Benson has established himself as a unique figure in the New Zealand musical landscape and projects like this confirm the breadth and depth of his ambition and vision.

In this instance it also acts a warm and welcome tribute to Melbourne, and Benson connects Western art music and indigenous sounds, whether they be taonga pouru, waiata or bird songs. 

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S & T - Nov 16, 2010

The album is fantastic and the live performance was exceptional!

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