Dez Mona and B.O.X.; Saga | UNC Campus: Hill Hall | Clubs & Concerts | Indy Week
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Dez Mona and B.O.X.; Saga 

When: Thu., Jan. 18, 7:30 p.m. 2018
Price: $10

The idea that disparate music styles and epochs are at odds is foreign to the Belgian groups Dez Mona and Baroque Orchestration X (B.O.X.), who present their 2011 collaborative opera, Sága, in Chapel Hill this weekend.

Dez Mona specializes in eclectic compositions brushed with evocative flourishes: rich gospel harmonies, thrumming jazz rhythms, glassy classical piano and obsidian-like glam guitars. Although the band has released multiple albums highlighting original material, its members are also gifted interpreters—a slower, ominous cover of the Weeknd's "Can't Feel My Face" amplifies the original song's paranoia.

Founded in 2009, B.O.X. also strives for the shock of the new. Using baroque instruments—for example, a bass lute known as the theorbos or the pre-trumpet cornetta—they've reimagined Radiohead songs as dusky chamber music pieces and collaborated with composer Shara Nova on the opera You Us We All. (Carolina Performing Arts presented the latter production in 2015.)

"To my ears and taste, there is a kind of shared 'down-to-earthness' in both early music and indie pop and rock," B.O.X founder Pieter Theuns says in the Sága program notes. "On top of that, there is a lot of taste for adventurous sounds in some pop and rock formations outside of the mainstream."

Sága, which is being performed by a seven-piece ensemble featuring musicians from both groups, strives to find common ground in traditional and cutting-edge approaches. Dez Mona vocalist Gregory Frateur anchors the somber chamber music with a pure, operatic voice that defies expectations; he unfurls a straightforward croon on "A Part of Our Dreams" and a gossamer falsetto on "Heavy Hearted Land."

And despite an antique instrumental configuration—which includes theorbos, double bass, accordion, baroque harp, and viola da gamba— Sága has clear modern indie analogs. The lilting "A Part of Our Lives" resembles Sigur Rós; "She Is a Haven" echoes the string-soaked grandeur of Antony and the Johnsons' classical collaborations; and the buoyant "A Part of Us All" builds in intensity like Arcade Fire's best moments.

In another nod to opera's sonic fluidity, the title has a dual meaning: It refers both to the wise Norse goddess of poetry and history and the historical narratives relaying the foundational myths of Iceland and Greenland. Appropriately, Sága's music is restless—it captures a search for wisdom pertaining to love and personal enlightenment—and yearns for solace and a sense of belonging.

For B.O.X.'s Theuns, the process of making Sága also provided plenty of insights into the benefits of creative contrasts. "Sometimes it means making space, getting out of the way," he says in the program notes. "Sometimes it means going along and even over the top, pushing each other to unknown territories. It's a beautiful kind of ballet if all goes well." —Annie Zaleski

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