Too often the
term world music has a negative connotation, like jazz fusion had. The difference
is, I feel, one of integration as contrasted with fusion- the sticking together
of disparate parts. The strength of Songs Of An Other that the "otherness"
here is actually a unity: of sound, of interplay, and universal sentiments.
Songs Of An
Other contains folks songs from Serbia, Armenia, Macedonia, Greece, and
Jewish Ashkenazy music. There are also compositions and/or improvisations
credited to the band based on Greek tradition. Instruments include oud, accordion,
ney, double-bass, violin, viola, guitar, unnamed percussion instruments, and
qanun (Wikipedia says the "kanun is a descendant of the old Egyptian
harp, and is related to the psaltery, dulcimer and zither"). Yet this
doesn't sound like a hodgepodge nor a travelog. "Smilj Smiljana"
is a Serbian lament for an uncertain love, but it could just as easily be
a Child ballad. Each lyric is a tiny jewel, like a Schubert lied.
a tremolo which, in ECM's typical echo, resonates as if under a stone arch
in a monastery. There is much use of breath, and vocal calls, sea-gull like
sounds which one associates with the works of both Kate Bush and Shelley Hirsch.
Sample, if you can, track 5: "O Yannis kai o drakos," which relates
the tale of Yannis in a battle of wills with a dragon, Yannatou's haunting
voice like a violin or bird call, at other times growling. Other songs use
gutteral utterances and ghostlike, non-stereotypical throatsinging which at
first sounds like an arco-bass, or is it indeed one of the instruments? Totally
is typical ECM: beautiful, arty cover photo, cardboard slipcase, booklet with
session photos, notes on each song's heredity (all traditional; which nation)
and song text summaries. Given the expensive look and feel, why not print
full bi- or multi-lingual translations of each song? Highly recommended for
tastes ranging from Hamza el Din to The Incredible String Band,
Om Khalsoum to June Tabor to Sainkho Namtchylak. One
of the best of 2008.