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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Vocal (other)-worldly stuff

By Stef

I usually am not a fan of vocal improvisation, but there are exceptions. It is extremely difficult to explain why it sometimes works and why it sometimes doesn't. I think a lot has to do with attitude and authenticity. Very often vocals in modern music come across as posture, pretense and pyrotechnix - like in lots of operas by the way - yet rarely it sounds real and unaffected, like in these two albums.

The second common aspect between both albums is their lack of concern for musical genres and styles, while at the same time respecting them - they integrate and take it a step further. Purists of either jazz or world music will not specifically like those albums for this reason, but those willing to discard conventions will surely enjoy both albums.

André, Tokar & Kugel - Varpai (Nemu Records, 2010) ****

The trio is Klaus Kugel from Germany on percussion, Mark Tokar from the Ukraine on bass, Andrė Pabarčiūtė from Lithuania on voice.

I've praised the qualities of both Kugel and Tokar before, with the bands "Yatoku", and last year as the winner's of the Happy Ears Award with "The Passion". Both men are extremely precise instrumentalists with a shared musical vision of sculpting jazz into a more universal musical language.

Lithuanian singer  Andrė Pabarčiūtė was unknown to me, but her singing qualities are astonishing. The overall atmosphere of the music is minimalist, with lots of arco bowing and light percussive effects, with an almost classical chamber music feeling. Even if unfamiliar, the music is gentle and welcoming, with no clear references but with influences from jazz, folk and classical.

André's worldless singing is equally light, abstract and unpredictable. She can sing like a bell, clear incantations, she can use her voice as instrument, prolonging sounds, using her throat, lips, tongue as  extended techniques, resonating with the bass, screech like a bird, or add dark-toned drama and intensity.

Everything is refined and pure and open-ended and fully improvised. Like so much of minimalist music, the full attention goes to tone and shades of tones creating a common musical universe rather than three musicians playing together. The title - Varpai - means bells or chimes in Lithuanian (if I can trust the online dictionaries) and it is especially the latter that the music sounds like, like chimes moving with a common wind, bringing a coherent, light and resonating sound that is attractive without being repetitive once.

A wonderful listening experience.

Listen and download from eMusic.

Jubran Kamilya & Werner Hasler - Wanabni (Zig Zag Territories, 2010) ***½

This album is of a totally different nature, a duo recording by Palestinian singer and oud-player Kamilya Jubran and Swiss trumpeter and "electronician" Werner Hasler. 

 The album starts with almost foghorn-like trumpet-playing over a single electronics drone, creating a backdrop of dark despair for Jubran to join on voice. She sings the texts of contemporary Arab poets, and clearly there is not much to understand if you do not speak the language. The pieces are song-like, built around the singing, yet the instrumental qualities of both musicians take this far beyond what we would call a "song", adding tension and depth and context.

Jubran's singing quality, together with the Middle-Eastern scales give the music the expected feeling of yearning and sadness. She does not have the vocal reach of some other female singers from the Middle-East, staying predominantly in the middle range,  but that makes it all the more human and intimate.

I love Arabic singing, I love the sound of the oud, I love the sound of the trumpet, and when all three are brought together, the expectations are high for me.  Yet at moments, the melodies and overall sound on this album are a little too average, nor do the electronics always work. Luckily, the great moments on this album dominate. Understanding Arabic might help too, to fully appreciate the complete picture.


© stef