Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Huun Huur Tu and Carmen Rizzo – Eternal

A million producers have tried to technify world music; most have failed spectacularly.  This is a welcome change, an extraordinarily successful hybrid of old and new, acoustic and electronic. Like the cd cover, the music on famed “throat singers” Huun Huur Tu‘s new album Eternal effectively evokes the windswept steppes of their native Tuva in the west of what was the Soviet Union. Like a warped Asian version of Radiohead, this cd sets folk songs impressively bulked up and energized with big-room studio production alongside austere soundscapes that conjure up hauntingly barren badlands vistas. Producer Carmen Rizzo’s most notable achievement here is that he keeps the compositions intact. He’s not trying to make third-rate hip-hop or techno out of it with a cheesy subsonic bass pulse, instead using the songs as a foundation and then layering subtle shades of orchestration around them, always keeping the melodies front and center.

The cd’s opening cut is a ballad in the Asian scale set to a hypnotically repeating, minimalist keyboard sample. Throughout the cd, Rizzo uses the group’s trademark swirling vocal harmonies (the singers hold a low note and let the resulting overtones circle around) as just another instrument in the orchestra rather than making them the sonic center. The second track is another Asian-flavored vocal number with tabla-like percussion, building to a swirl of oscillating vocals and then segueing into the next cut with a trip-hop beat. After a brief, suspensefully static tone poem, there’s the best track on the album, the murky, atmospheric Dogee Mountain (Interlude), blending layer upon layer of sound over a haunting, minimalist two-chord progression.

The stark intensity remains with In Search of a Lost Past, an austere, Radiohead/Alan Parsons soundtrack piece where the singers’ overtones become so distorted as the high frequencies build that it’s almost as if they’re having some devious fun with a vocoder. The album concludes with a hypnotic march set to reverberating electric piano and yet more dense, echoey layers of vocalese, and then a brief chant which for once sets those otherworldly harmonies centerstage. This works on just about every level it could: as psychedelic rock, as straight-up world music composition and chillout album. One of the year’s best so far. Huun Huur Tu and Carmen Rizzo will be at le Poisson Rouge on Sept 23 with a sellout expected, advance tickets highly recommended.

August 18, 2009 Posted by | music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment