Yo-Yo Ma's new album takes spiritual journey

In this image released by Sony BMG Masterworks, cellist Yo-Yo Ma poses with his cello. (AP Photo/Sony BMG Masterworks,Michael O'Neill) ** NO SALES **

W 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.

His next CD, "Songs of Joy & Peace," is being released this month, just in time for those holiday trips over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house.

The 53-year-old cellist sees it as a musical house party with a wide variety of top artists jamming with Ma for the other guests. Even the audience gets an opportunity to join in the merriment.

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."

Some of the songs are wondrous, such as a jazzed-up version of the Gregorian chant "Concordi Laetitia" by Matt and Dave Brubeck. Others - like a duet with western Massachusetts neighbor James Taylor in "Here Comes the Sun" - are soothing.

There's also the traditional - Alison Krauss' "Wexford Carol" - and the wild - 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, bluegrass 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," Ma said of this diversity. "When you play music 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."

In the last song, "Dona Nobis Pacem" re-emerges with Ma playing the theme alone, but joined by trumpeter Chris Botti playing "Auld Lang Syne" as a countermelody. It's a poignant way to weave the song threads together into a soft snuggly rug in front of the fireplace.

But, like the calendar, the music doesn't end.

The audience gets its 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."