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Primavera en Salonico: Songs of An Other.

ECM 2057, 52:17,
Review by Steve Koenig

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.

Yannatou has 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 breathtaking.

The packaging 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.

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