Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Gorgeous Balkan and Appalachian Vocal Harmonies from Æ

Plaintive, austere, otherworldly and often hauntingly beautiful, this isn’t your typical a cappella album. Imaginative Brooklyn vocal duo Æ’s claim to fame is that they’re equally at home with earthy Balkan folk music as they are with Americana. The most innovative cuts here interpolate Applachian and Balkan themes, revealing the strange yet familiar commonalities in two styles that seemingly could not be more dissimilar. As the two voices interweave, one obvious comparison is Mariana Sadovska’s rearrangements of rustic Carpathian songs; other times, they evoke popular Brooklyn buzz band Black Sea Hotel. The two women were seemingly born to blend voices together – they could be sisters. Eva Salina Primack is highly sought after as a lead singer throughout the Balkan music world; Aurelia Shrenker, her onetime bandmate in the American folk group the Sirene Trio, is equally renowned as a performer and interpreter of Georgian ballads. Primack’s voice is a little more glimmering and gregarious, Shrenker’s somewhat more wary and haunting. But when the two switch roles, it’s effortless and at that point it’s impossible to keep track of who’s singing what. Their voices are augmented tersely and rustically with Primack’s accordion and Shrenker’s panduri, along with some striking violin by Jesse Kotansky on two tracks.

The first of the interpolations has Shrenker doing a potently effective slide up from her lower register. The second is hypnotic and eerie, drone versus melody, accordion looming ominously in the background; the last one contrasts Primack’s vivid Appalachian twang against Shrenker’s stately, low Georgian tones. Shrenker evokes Linda Thompson, apprehensive yet completely in command on a couple of stark Georgian folk songs, while Primack’s longing intensity on a Ukrainian number is goosebump-inducing. The Americana numbers here aren’t exactly yuppie-friendly singalongs: Wind and Rain (which many of you know) is a gleeful murder ballad with a decomposing corpse as its centerpiece, while Across the Blue Mountains documents an averted seduction, in fact maybe an averted kidnapping. There’s also a rapt, hypnotic, hymnlike Corsican song, several vividly bucolic mountain ballads from Albania and Greece and a klezmer tune done so affectingly by Primack, right down to the vocalese on the chorus, that there’s no need for a band behind her. Which could be said for everything else on the album. Æ play Banjo Jim’s on Feb 13 and Feb 14 at the Jalopy.

January 20, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments