Sunday, September 20, 2009

In review--Poly-phon-y

Alex E. Smith, Cheevers Toppah & Nitanas Landry
Rain in July (Native American Vocal Harmony)
Canyon Records

Barbara Furtuna
In Santa Pace (Polyphonies Corses)
Buda Musique (France)

As far as I know, Rain in July is Alex E. Smith, Cheevers’ Toppah’s and Nitanas Landry’s follow-up to the Native American trio’s Harmony Nights (2007). The Native American vocal harmonies that appear on Rain in July sound as lush as an alpine valley. These gifted vocalists weave their voices into tight harmonies while mostly singing vocables. However, a few of the love songs supply lyrics sung in English.

The most remarkable aspect of this trio is the inclusion of a female vocalist, Nitanas Landry who hails from Canada. Usually when you hear Native American harmonies, they involve two men vocalists. While the harmonies possess beauty in their own right, adding the feminine voice brings in a sacred balance that resonates well with the earth, and certainly with my body.

Navajo vocalist Louie Gonnie makes an appearance on Swirling Smoke in which he sings in the Dinè dialect. Landry provides gorgeous harmonies to Gonnie’s healing baritone vocals. Swirling Smoke offers such a lovely respite from stress that it has quickly become my favorite song on the recording. And certainly I would recommend checking out Gonnie’s solo recordings and adding those to a healer’s toolkit. The title track features Anthony Wakeman’s flute, conjuring up the image of smoke from sage and sweet grass swirling among trees. The harmonies on this song tingles the spine with beauty and reverence. And the title track offers 7 plus minutes of relaxation.

The vocalists provide us with 10 luscious tracks ending on an upbeat note on True Melodies. For listeners seeking mellow Native American vocals and lush polyphonies with traditional flute, Rain in July hits the spot. It does not work so well for meditation since the lyrics in English tend to distract, but the music feels relaxing at bedtime or can accompany while relaxing in a natural setting. For the most part this recording supplies a cappella music without percussion. Yet, you might still hear the pulse of Mother Earth beating alongside your heart.

In theory, the original inhabitants of the French island Corsica could claim indigenous roots. Over the centuries, shepherds herding their sheep in the Corsican mountain ranges developed haunting vocal harmonies referred to as polyphony. The polyphony singers these days sing a cappella, with traditional and non-traditional instruments. Their repertoire is sacred and secular, ranging from 6 to 7 singer choirs, Jean-Paul Poletti and the Men’s Choir of Sartene for instance to smaller ensembles, such as the quartet Barbara Furtuna.

Corsican polyphony would be considered a rare treat in the U.S. I doubt you could walk into any record store and find recordings of this music. However, you can find it through websites that sell music, direct from French labels (websites) or send money with a friend traveling to France so that he/she can bring back recordings for you. No healer or musician should go without possessing at least one Corsican polyphony recording. I believe that this vocal tradition is among the most beautiful in the world, and certainly among the most powerful, if not passionate. If you have yet to hear it, expect to be stopped in your tracks or you might even feel like dropping to your knees. It does wonders for unblocking stuck emotions.

Barbara Furtuna’s recording In Santa Pace is the latest to be added to my small collection of Corsican recordings. I believe the vocalists sing in the Corse dialect on this recording, though there seems also to be some Latin text for the sacred hymns. The Corse dialect as origins in Italy, I believe the Genovese dialect, but I could be wrong. But I am not wrong to tell you that the razor sharp harmonies on In Santa Pace burn with passion.

The four men singers, Maxime Merlandi, Andrè Dominici, Jean Pierre Marchetti and Jean Philippe Guissani sing with perfect intonation and their harmonies flow like honey off their tongues. Certainly this is one of those situations when describing the music provides a certain challenge. Corsican polyphony must be heard to comprehend. And even then, the magic this polyphony weaves defies words. The vocals bend time and touch the heart profoundly. Sensitive people could only benefit from listening to Corsican polyphony.

The bulk of this recording provides a cappella harmonies with the exception of Veni O Bella (with its Italian-like lilting melody), in which guitar and mandolin provide accompaniment. Solo vocals appear on that track offering a wonderful contrast to the polyphony. Another solo song with accompaniment, Lamentu Chi Ti Cerca sounds like a Provencal troubadour song with its plucked guitar resembling a lute and strains of a violin. The closing song, L’Innamurati again brings in the plucked guitar and this time swirling accordion to accompany solo and duet vocals. The Dalmatian song, Plavi Plutevi Mora has been brought in to offer a different type of harmony, but for listeners, this collection of traditional, sacred, secular and contemporary compositions offer bountiful treasures to hungry ears.

Rain in July, Canyon Records
In Santa Pace, Buda Musique