It's unlikely that this year will bring a more spellbinding vocal album than Portals of Grace.

It's unlikely that this year will bring a more spellbinding vocal album than Portals of Grace. Azam Ali, formerly the vocalist with world-music group Vas, has turned her wondrous voice to the interpretation of medieval songs, and the result is music saturated with the aural atmosphere of a long-forgotten world. Ali's material is drawn from a remarkably wide variety of medieval styles. "Lasse Pour Quoi," for instance, is an early 14th-century tune in the Provençal dialect. "La Serena" is a Sephardic, Judeo/Spanish song. "O Quanta Qualia" was written by the scholar Peter Abelard in the 12th century. "Inna-l-Malak" is based on the ancient Byzantine melodic tradition. The most haunting song on the album, "A Chantar m'er," was written by Comtessa Beatrix de Dia in the late 12th century. Throughout, Ali's voice is a glorious, unforgettable instrument.—PVV

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