Sunday, December 7, 2008

In review--Turkish modes & Sephardic songs

Kaila Flexer & Gari Hegedus
Next Village Music

It takes a global village to make an album these days, or at least culturally speaking. A few years ago fusion projects were a novelty item, but today, it appears to be a brave new world where musicians forge new paths over bridges built between cultures.

Jewish violinist Kaila Flexer and lutenist Gari Hegedus (who I first heard as part of the duo Stellamara), combined their musical passions on Teslim. On this recording, the musicians gleaned from Turkish modes, Sephardic songs, while also adding Celtic, Armenian and Greek music to the mix. This all-acoustic album which features violin, viola, various lutes and exotic percussion, also includes the Swedish national treasure, a nyckelharpa performed by Vasen's Olov Johansson (Stone's Throw). The musician popped into the studio while he was traveling through and contributed to the global village sound.

This exotic collection of songs, both traditional and newly composed, sets a melancholic mood. The musicians explore their passions while offering us a pleasurable experience. And in the press notes both musicians mentioned that they had hit dry spots in their musical endeavors until this project revived their love for music. Let this CD also revive your passion for gorgeously rendered acoustic music. Discover the world through the eyes and ears of global musicians.

In review---Norwegian Chillout

Aage Kvalbein & Iver Kleive
Comfort Me
Meditation for Cello and Piano
Kirkelig Kulturverksted

I don't know about you, but this time of year, when darkness falls on the northern hemisphere of the earth, I need more time to relax. While the heat of the summer sun lends itself to spicy Latin and African music, the winter cold, sends me seeking a warm comfortable place to rest my feet and indulge in a good novel. And also the idea of "comfort music" (similar to comfort food), appeals to me as I hunker down and wait for the first signs of spring to emerge.

Norwegian cellist Aage Kvalbein and Norwegian pianist/organist Iver Kleive were thinking along those same lines. Certainly living so close to the Arctic would send anyone seeking a good fire to toast one's feet and music to warm one's thoughts. This duo takes the chill out of winter on their second recording together with KKV,
Comfort Me (Meditation for Cello and Piano).

This chamber music album features Johann Sebastian Bach, Gounod, Albinoni, Gabriel Faure, Ennio Morricone and Edvard Grieg, as well as, traditional folk songs and ballads. The music was recorded at the church, Kulturkirken Jakob (which the label Kirkelig Kulturverksted forged a partnership), and Kleive played the church's Steinway grand piano. Its notes reverberated throughout an acoustically-perfect church and the cello contributed to the melancholic wintry mood. And yet, this wintry mood in the right setting, offers comfort in the same way that favorite food might. Music is after all, food for the soul.

In review--Return to Bethlehem

Solveig Slettahjell
with Tord Gustavsen & Sjur Miljeteig
Night in Bethlehem
Kirkelig Kulturverksted

Most of the time a title such as "Night in Bethlehem" would describe songs sung about the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. However, Norwegian chanteuse Solveig Slettahjell's album, Night in Bethlehem literally referred to those nights in a special Bethlehem church where Slettahjell, pianist Tord Gustavsen and trumpeter Sjur Miljeteig recorded sacred songs.

The press notes recalled, "After the pilgrims had left the church for the evening and the monks in the Franciscan monastery had retired for the night, the three Norwegian artists spent some creative hours each night in the church."

And this nightly church visit in the holy city was captured in jazz-tinged Christmas carols, both traditional and contemporary. You can literally feel the hush tones of the church (built on the site where Jesus was born), along with the rich timbre of the church piano, Miljeteig's sparkling trumpet and Slettahjell's jazzy soprano vocals. Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem possesses a African-American gospel syncopation, Silent Night which opens the recording, sounds like holy jazz, but my favorite song on the recording, is Oh, Poor Little Jesus which sparkles in its jazz ambiance.

Slettahjell sings in both Norwegian and English. Her clear tones possess a road-weariness and a great deal of compassion. I would imagine that this was a dream project for the musicians. And certainly they had set a reverential atmosphere as they performed timeless gems.