English composer Jocelyn Pook is best-known for her many film scores, including most of the key scenes in Stanley Kubrick’s last movie, Eyes Wide Shut. But her finest works have been inspired by dance, including 1999′s Flood, and now this score to Desh. Desh is a solo piece by the great British choreographer/dancer Akram Khan (“as transporting a piece of dance as I have ever seen,” according to the review in London’s Telegraph newspaper), and is based on the idea of connecting with the land of Khan’s family — Bangladesh. Pook traveled to the bustling capital city of Dhaka to record the sounds of the land and its people (and its weather), and these become as integral to the fabric of the score as the strings, drums, electronics and voices. Those voices, as in several of Pook’s other concert works, often deliver sacred texts from various religious traditions: The opening “Hallelujah” stresses the commonalities between the Abrahamic religions. “Metallic Sonata,” a highpoint in the score, begins with the raucous sounds of the Dhaka streets — the traffic, the street vendors, etc. — and adds thumping percussion; about halfway through, though, the Western sounds of the strings begin to change the meaning, if not the sound, of the piece.
“Honey Bee Story” is essentially a Minimalist chamber music work, reminiscent of Philip Glass’s more lyrical moments. “Remembering Noor,” on the other hand, revels in the sounds of South Asian folk rhythms and instruments; insistent and strangely catchy, it is a convincing collision of the organic and the processed, of Eastern sources and a Western composer with a keen ear. Guest singer Natacha Atlas and Pook’s longtime collaborator Melanie Pappenheim blend their voices to great effect on “Ave Maria,” which manages to evoke both the famous Schubert song of that name and Pook’s own “Oppenheimer,” an earlier work that also had an Arab-tinged melancholy to it.