Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Savina Yannatou & Joana Sá - Ways of Notseeing (Clean Feed, 2020) ****½

My appreciation of Savina Yannatou dates from a week spent at Krakow’s Jazz Autumna in late 2014, listening to her in Barry Guy’s Blue Shroud Orchestra. During the day the band rehearsed Guy’s score; at night they performed in improvisatory sub-groups. Both the small-groups (Tensegrity, a four-CD set on Not Two) and an orchestral recording (The Blue Shroud, Intakt) are available. Between them, Yannatou ranges from subtle chamber music to dense free jazz with the small groups, while singing complex parts in multiple languages in the ultimate orchestral piece, all matched to great expressive and musical powers. Those powers are also apparent in these duets.

This is a first-time collaboration between Yannatou and Portuguese pianist Joana Sá, but it’s already work of rare collective vision and empathy. In a recollection published on the Clean Feed site, Sá recalls a woman approaching her after a performance in Greece and suggesting they collaborate, only discovering later from the woman’s note that it was Yannatou. Afterwards, Yannatou decided to travel to Lisbon to launch the collaboration even before a concert venue could be booked. That spontaneity feeds this music, though it also includes moments of magical calm. Ways of Notseeing suggests not blindness but all the senses and modes of perception other than the merely visual, most significantly of sound, including the subtlest nuance of expression, and extending from there to near telepathy, as the duets unfold with strong (yet likely nonexistent) texts of great intensity, conceived and sung in unknown (unknowable?) tongues‒variously shouted, cried, chattered and whispered‒and ranging from great passion to joy to sorrow.

Even at its most impassioned, the music is dream-like, whether in the distance of piano from voice or in their radical finesse. Joana Sá’s instrument is described as “piano, semi-prepared piano and & props.” I can’t describe those “props” exactly, but on the reverie of movement IV, the wealth of eerie, sustained sounds suggests bowed piano strings for long tones with percussion, though there’s the sonic suggestion of added echo and distortion (her youtube video from 2010, “Through This Looking Glass” includes bowing, rubbing and placing metal spheres on the strings, screws between strings and overhanging bells). One of the most developed segments, V, begins with alternately tuneful and percussive, relatively conventional piano-playing combining with the sometimes talkative, sometimes melodic vocal to suggest initially an unknowable music-hall and an increasingly enchanted theatrical episode; by its conclusion, though, it has become psychodrama, with vocal leaps across both musical and emotional ranges. The sustained narrative contained within VI might be a forced confession, but each listener will have her or his own associations, the utterance seemingly flying out of a vigorously scraped and struck piano interior.

Sá also provides three solo pieces, entitled resonance 1-3. Interludes placed strategically amongst the seven duets. Each possesses the same combination of form, mystery and indestructible fragility that inform the duets; they serve, however, as islands of repose. This is collectively improvised music of rich associations and rare drama.

1 comment:


Savina Yannatou has played an important role in transforming modern Greek urban culture especially collaborating with Lena Platonos (another crucial figure in modern Greek music). Also, she is one of the very few that along with another group of musicians, Primavera en Salonico, approached several Greek musical traditions with a will to change them and breathe fresh air into them//

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