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No New Abnormal

Tag: aurelia shrenker

An Overlooked Lorca-Inspired Art-Rock Treasure from Rima Fand

Much as this blog’s raison d’etre is to keep an eye on what’s happening now, the past is littered with unfairly overlooked albums. One recent one, from 2011, is Rima Fand’s Sol, Caracol (Spanish for “Sun, Snail”). It comprises many of the songs from her theatrical project Don Cristobal: Billy-Club Man, which sets Federico Garcia Lorca poetry to frequently haunting, flamenco-tinged original music. This is the closest thing to an original soundtrack recording that exists, part dark flamenco rock, part noir cabaret, part chamber pop. Besides playing violin, the Luminescent Orchestrii co-founder distinguishes herself on mandolin and keyboards as well, accompanied by an all-star cast from many styles of south-of-the-border and Balkan music.

Although Don Cristobal and his sidekick Rosita are a Spanish version of Punch and Judy, there’s very little here that’s vaudevillian, consistent with Garcia Lorca’s full-fledged rather than one-dimensionally farcical depiction of the characters. The opening track, Midnight Hours, sets a dramatic lead vocal by David Fand over a spiky blend of the bandleader’s mandolin with Avi Fox-Rosen and Chris Rael’s guitars, a soaring choir behind them. You might call this art-flamenco. Lucia Pulido sings the dynamically charged Replica, Rima Fand doubling on mandolin and accordion. Cicada, a shivery, hypnotically suspenseful string piece, blends her violin with those of Sarah Alden and Not Waving But Drowning’s Pinky Weitzman and Matt Moran‘s vibraphone.

Justine Williams
sings the creepy, marching Rosita’s Song. The choir returns for Don Woodsman-Heart, a moody flamenco vamp lit up by Quince Marcum‘s alto horn, morphing into a dreaming, longing waltz. Pulido takes over the mic again on the terse, minimalistic Confusion over My Brightest Diamond cellist Maria Jeffers‘ bassline. David Fand returns to imploring lead vocals on the insistent Abre Tu Balcon (Open Up Your Balcony – that’s Don Cristobal imploring Rosita to have a word with him). They follow that with a cartoonish miniature, Te Mate and then Hat-Ache, another flamenco-tinged, angst-fueled, love-stricken ballad.

The album’s centerpiece is the macabre, carnivalesque Billy-Club Ballet, the bandleader on piano with guitar and percussion, Fox-Rosen’s jagged electric incisions adding menace up to a twinkling piano interlude and then back down. They follow a brief mandolin waltz with La Monja Gitana (The Country Nun), rising from another austere 3/4 rhythm, with a rich, bittersweet vocal from Rima Fand.

Eva Salina Primack and Aurelia Shrenker a.k.a. innovative Balkan/Appalachian duo AE sing the sweeping, tensely moonlit Lullaby for a Sleeping Mirror, building to a lush, anxious round. The album ends with the towering overture La Cogida y la Muerte, sung pensively in English and Spanish by Abigail Wright, the acidic close harmonies of the string section contrasting with Katie Down‘s anxiously dancing flute and the distantly circling trumpets of Ben Syversen, Sarah Ferholt, JR Hankins and Ben Holmes. Surreal, sad, eclectic and vivid, it more than does justice to Lorca’s equally surreal, sad, ironic poetry. The album comes with a useful lyric booklet including English translations.

Which Way East at the New York Gypsy Festival

It’s likely that most of the people who wrote the songs that Which Way East played last night at Drom died young and forgotten, along with their contemporaries, the only people who might have been able to maintain some record of composer credits. Adding their own improvisational, sometimes jazzy, sometimes Middle Eastern-tinged edge, the New York-based Balkan group did justice to the depth and power of those old songs, as part of the ongoing New York Gypsy Festival. This particular version of the band featured Jesse Kotansky on violin, Adam Good (of the Berlin-based Ljuti Hora) on several stringed instruments, Uri Sharlin on accordion and Eva Salina Primack on vocals.

Primack’s initials pretty much explain her approach to music. There are other singers who can learn perfect enunciation in Romanes, Macedonian and Turkish, as she demonstrated during the show, but she doesn’t simply have the mechanics down cold: she inhabits the songs. Death and despair were not always front and center during the set – in fact, just the opposite – but they were always lurking around the corner, and Primack’s wary, nuanced modulations were a constant reminder. She may be best known for power and drive – it’s something of an athletic feat to be able to sing over the blasting brass of a band like Slavic Soul Party – but this show was not about pyrotechnics, it was about soul. That she didn’t upstage the other musicians testifies to the equally subtle power they brought to the music. Kotansky typically served as the lead player, building crescendos to the breaking point, sliding, swooping and diving, adding swirls of otherworldly microtones to bring a crescendo to critical mass. Good began on guitar, with an agile, precise gypsy jazz attack, then switched to the clanky yet hypnotic tambura and then oud, the instrument that gave him the opportunity to induce the most goosebumps with a couple of slowly swelling, brooding solos. Sharlin held the rhythm steady, sometimes with a blippy staccato, sometimes with raw sheets of sustain: it would have been fun to have seen him cut loose more than he did because like his bandmates, he typically goes for plaintiveness over flash.

Together they made their way, judiciously but not particularly cautiously, through a Turkish wedding song, a couple of acidically rustic Macedonian tunes and the gypsy anthem Song of the Romanes.They finally let the clouds lift with a cover of the iconic gypsy pop tune Marushka, Primack going down into her low register for a sardonic come-hither vibe. They ended the set with a completely unexpected cover of Jolene. You might think that a Dolly Parton hit would make a bizarre segue with gypsy music, but this band made it work (Primack’s AE duo project with another A-list singer, Aurelia Shrenker, explores the Appalachian-Balkan connection even more deeply). Primack teased the crowd, waiting until the third chorus until she finally went all the way up the scale for “Jo-LEE-ee-een,” unable to resist a grin as she brought the song back down. And she made it absolutely clear how sad a song it was. It’s not a happy karaoke singalong: it’s a plea to a hot mama who can get whatever she wants to refrain from breaking up someone else’s home (although there should be a sequel where the protagonist gets to kick Jolene’s ass, then her man’s ass, and then run off with Jolene’s husband for good measure. Maybe Primack can write that one someday).

Which Way East play Oct 13 at the Jalopy at 9 with Veveritse Brass Band.