Much like jazz musicians today, singers during the Renaissance embellished melodies with improvisation. That was called diminuito, and that is the title of a new album. It comes from the lute player Rolf Lislevand and his ensemble. They perform music from the 16th century and they use improvisation to push it in a new direction.

Here's critic Tom Manoff.

(Soundbite of music)

TOM MANOFF: Improvisation combines musical thinking with musical imagination. And when both meet on equal ground, the result is powerful and poetic.

(Soundbite of song, "Petit Jacquet/Quinta Pars")

MANOFF: Rarely do I encounter a CD on which each successive track becomes a favorite. Not only does every piece on this album strike the ear instantly as compelling, each becomes part of a longer journey. And there's definitely a sense of narrative here, a sense of storytelling, if only in the imagination.

(Soundbite of song, "Petit Jacquet/Quinta Pars")

MANOFF: If you think of lutes as producing only delicate, plucked tones, you'll be surprised by their forceful sound in this ensemble, which also includes other stringed instruments, a small pipe organ, and an array of exotic percussion.

(Soundbite of song, "Petit Jacquet/Quinta Pars")

MANOFF: The acoustics of this recording swirl in contrasting sound colors and lush harmonics. Occasionally, singers join in, floating above the instruments -an ethereal effect which lends a sense of timelessness to the music.

(Soundbite of song, "Petit Jacquet/Quinta Pars")

MANOFF: Although based in the Renaissance, "Diminuito" is sometimes hard to place. It's classical music, certainly, but influenced also by folk and world music.

Additionally, the musicians have used modern recording technology to create its richly layered sound. While these influences may deprive the album of some historical authenticity, they speak to a deeper authenticity: a creative process responsible only to pure imagination.

(Soundbite of song, "Petit Jacquet/Quinta Pars")

NORRIS: That was Tom Manoff, reviewing the new album by Rolf Lislevand. It's called "Diminuito." You can hear more songs from the album, and find more classical music, at nprmusic.org.

(Soundbite of song, "Petit Jacquet/Quinta Pars")


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