Lucid Culture


CD Review: Marta Sebestyen – I Can See the Gates of Heaven

This new album, available for the first time outside Hungary, collects an alternately haunting, rousing and mystical mix of traditional songs. Sometimes austere, sometimes lush, it sets Marta Sebestyen’s voice either soaring or hushed against a background of bagpipe, flutes, sax and tarogato (Hungarian clarinet) by Balazs Dongo Sokolay and a thicket of lute and zither played by Matyas Bolya. The effect is rustic and often absolutely gorgeous. Marta Sebestyen is hardly unknown outside her native Hungary – in addition to being a leading European exponent of her country’s folk music, she won a Grammy for her contributions to a Deep Forest album and had a song on the soundtrack to the film The English Patient. Here, she explores music both sacred and profane – for a non-Hungarian speaker, which is which is pretty much impossible to tell.

The first couple of tracks start out tersely, Sebestyen voicing an understated clarity over a rather hypnotic mix of fujara (overtone bass flute), throat-singing and lute. Several of the tracks here combine two or more songs: for example, the almost nine-minute Invocation, beginning with a somewhat troubled, rhythmically shifting ballad and segueing with lute and what sounds like a krummhorn into a more atonal feel with echoes of Middle Eastern taqsim improvisation. There’s a waltz that sounds an awful lot like Scarborough Fair that picks up the pace with flutes and then powerful bagpipes, like a sea chantey. There’s a suite about the liberation of Hungary from the Ottoman Empire that begins with a bouncy, apprehensive Middle Eastern dance, Sebestyen’s vocals stately and nuanced, replete with longing – and then it accelerates with a bounce, the bagpipes and flute swirling in celebration. Another follows what could have been a dramatic Fairport Convention ballad with a boisterous waltz tune. Sebestyen errs on the side of caution, a welcome trait – she never overdoes anything, so when she rises to meet a lyric or an instrumental passage, you know she has good reason. This ought to appeal to the gypsy music contingent every bit as much as fans of Middle Eastern and western folk music. Yet another good Eastern European vocal album to come out in recent months, echoing the New York scene with AE, Black Sea Hotel et al.- if what’s happening here is a microcosm for what’s happening throughout the world, so much the better.

January 28, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment