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Yo-Yo Ma's Latest CD: A Spiritual Journey

Yo-Yo Ma
Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) -- After musical trips to Appalachia, Brazil, Argentina, the Silk Road and baroque and modern Italy, Yo-Yo Ma has embarked on a spiritual journey.

The 53-year-old cellist sees his next CD, "Songs of Joy & Peace," to be released this month, as a musical house party with a wide variety of top artists jamming with Ma for the other guests.

He felt the urge to record something that he hopes will bring people together during these dangerous times.

"I wanted to do something that focuses on an idea rather than a place," Ma said in an interview. "Like Appalachian music or Brazilian or tango or the Silk Road, we were going to faraway regions. But then there are other things that join us together. And one of them is this seeking of the experience of joy in different places. And so in a way it's like creating a party that brings all my friends together from the different parts of life."

The songs range from a jazzed-up version of the Gregorian chant "Concordi Laetitia," by Matt and Dave Brubeck, to a soothing duet with Ma's western Massachusetts neighbor James Taylor in "Here Comes the Sun." There's also the traditional â?? Alison Krauss's "Wexford Carol" â?? and the wild â?? Canadian Natalie MacMaster's jig and reel.

Starting with the lonesome melody of "Dona Nobis Pacem" ("Give Us Peace") played by Ma, the song becomes thicker and thicker as more of his recorded cello voices are layered in.

The 16th-century melody re-emerges time after time, played in a variety of styles by artists such as the Brazilian guitarists Sergio and Odair Assad, bassist Edgar Meyer and mandolinist Chris Thile, and Cuban-American clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera and Israeli jazz pianist Alon Yavnai. Other artists on the CD include Diana Krall and Renee Fleming.

"Music ultimately is so much of a shared activity. When you play with somebody else, you're in sync. When you're in sync there's a moment of trust in communication that is huge, huge. ... So the reality of all of that is that we know this can happen where people who are very different, who are from different parts of the domain, can come together."

Even the audience gets a chance to participate, by submitting its own creations of "Dona Nobis Pacem" on the Indaba Music social network site. Entries will be judged and the winner will get an opportunity to record with Ma.

"I don't think of music lovers as consumers," Ma said. "What would make me really happy is if someone bought the CD and they liked it and it sits in their mind for quite a while and they hum what they like. (Then) you get people to say you like it, you can actually participate in it."