Besides more or less reinventing the string quartet and its place in the music world over its 25 years-plus career, the Kronos Quartet has also done its share of opening public ears to the world's music. They have commissioned countless works and drawn our attentions to the sweetness of African composers' thinking (Pieces of Africa, one of their best sellers, if not their best) and to composers from different corners of the former Soviet Union on Night Prayers (also one of their best). Kronos' Caravan (Nonesuch 79490; 62:49) takes us to various locales, musically, with the arrangemental help of Osvaldo Golijov, a composer featured on Night Prayers. All in all, it's a pan-global sojourn that works beautifully.
We hear bittersweet inventions from the Portuguese fado master Carlos Paredes and some cathartically maniacal guest fiddling cameos by those Gypsy kings, Taraif de Haidouks. Proto-minimalist Terry Riley, who has done great writing for the Kronos before, is the token westerner (although his ears have always leaned towards the East). His new piece, "Cortejo Funebre en el Monte Diablo (Funeral Procession on Mount Diablo)"-dedicated to first violinist David Harrington's late son-incorporates electronics in an organic, ear-tweaking way. Those timbres contrast with the more real-time string timbres of works as varied as the young Mexican Enrique Rangel's "La Muerte Chiquita," a nod to the magical iridescence of Indian film music via Rahul Dev Burman's music for "Aaj Ki Raat" (with guest Zakir Hussain on tabla), and music by Lebanese Ali Jihad Racy and the Iranian Kayhan Kalhor.
It all ends on a sour note, actually, with the throwaway Dick Dale-in-the-Middle-East gambit of "Miriiou Twist." This is one of those Kronos confections that is presumably a comic relief bit that will wind up as an encore. But it has nothing to do with what they do best: expand the world of musical options.