[dropcap2]P[/dropcap2]Port O’ Monkeys get their name from a fictional town on the shores of Mount Analogue, an island mountain described in the French surrealist René Daumal’s novel Le Mont Analogue. In this town where the ordinary world intersects with this imaginary realm, inhabitants from all around the globe and every era of history have managed to reach the island through the magical barrier that protects it.
With their debut album The Crossing, the members of Port O’ Monkeys seek to conjure up a similar space-time anomaly by bringing together an equally eclectic variety of instruments and music from every corner of the globe. Hailing from faraway places like a fishing village in the south of France, India, and Shanghai, and from familiar locales including Chicago, the Bronx, and Manhattan, the nine contributing members play nearly twenty instruments between them—some of them familiar (guitar, mandolin, flute, violin), some slightly eccentric (harmonium, guitarrone, bass trombone), and some downright exotic (oud, kanun, rebab, yayla tanbur, nyckleharpa).
And the ambitious repertoire found on their debut album takes a similar journey around the world, covering everything from traditional flamenco (“Alegrias/Rumba In E-Major”) to a Turkish Mevlevi (“Dervish”) to some rare surviving fragments of ancient Greek music (“Ancient Greek Medley”). With virtuosic flair and frightening ease, they jump from Northern Spain (“Jota”) to the mountains of Kabul (“Afghan Medley”). Basque, American folk, Yemeni, Hindustani, Klezmer, Gypsy—you name it, they play it.
And they rarely miss an opportunity to reinterpret their musical arrangements through Mount Analogue’s lens. The traditional Armenian song “Chick’s Armenian” feels more like a slow-tempo raga when played on an oud and accompanied by Middle Eastern percussion. On “To B And To C,” which is based on a tune from a 1966 album by the Scottish songwriter Bert Jansch, a Swedish nyckleharpa takes the lead backed by a bass trombone. Even their original compositions sound as if they were written at the foot of this island mountain. “Alexis’ Waltz” places you in the middle of Michael Corleone’s 1940′s Sicilian wedding. And the title track morphs from a free-floating Qawwali-like intro into a belly-dancing groove sung with English lyrics.
The tracks of The Crossing could be called street music—the music of fiestas, the music of house concerts, and folk music. Other pieces are more directly meditative, and the members of Port O’ Monkeys are more than fine with this mixture. As they state in the liner notes, their hope for listeners is simple: “. . . if we are attentive enough, a higher dimension can appear, manifested in an expanded time, a time in which one can hear all the subtle variations and interplay of rhythm, melody, and overtones.”