Ventanas Bring Their Exhilarating Mashup of Flamenco, Middle Eastern and Ladino Sounds to the Lower East

Is there a more enticing way to open an album than with a bristling oud solo? That’s what Toronto band Ventanas do on their new album Arrelumbre – meaning “shine” in Ladino, the Sephardic Jewish dialect, and streaming at Bandcamp. As the song goes along, Dennis Duffin’s flamenco guitar climbs and intertwines with Jessica Hana Deutsch’s violin over a shapeshifting groove as frontwoman Tamar Ilana’s voice sails overhead. All that pretty well capsulizes what you get on the record, conjuring images of dark-haired señors and señoritas passing around a bottle of arak against the backdrop of a blazing bonfire, crackling castanets and twirling dervishes, an enchanting and genre-warping cross-cultural party. The eclectically intense Mediterranean/Romany/Middle Eastern/klezmer acoustic jamband are bringing all this cross-pollinated fun to a free show at Drom on January 15 (actually the wee hours of the 16th) at around half past midnight.

After that first track, the album really gets cooking with the lickety-split Dedo Mili Na Pazar, its eerie Balkan vocal harmonies over a spiky thicket of Demetrios Petsalakis’ baglama lute bolstered by pizzicato violins (that’s Lemon Bucket Orkestra‘s Mark Marczyk on the other one). The title suite of Moroccan dances rises amd then bursts out of Duffin’s elegant flamenco intro in flurries of shivery violin, Ilana’s honeyed vocals providing a tender contrast – and then the band picks it up even further. Then they mash up flamenco and classical Persian balladry.

The well-traveled Balkan folk song Makedonsko Devojce doesn’t bear much resemblance to the cult favorite Black Sea Hotel version, but it’s reinvented all the same, in this case as a mashup of flanemco, Romany guitar jazz and jaunty folk-rock with an incendiary violin solo at the center. The album’s most epic track, Elianto, is a deliciously slinky, misterioso number fueled by Ilana’s low-flame vocals and Petsalakis’ oud.

Libertad has a similarly edgy Middle Easter flavor, blended with flamenco intensity at double the speed. La Sala Del Crimen pairs lustrous violin against Duffin’s elegant fretwork, while Si Te Quiero offers a dusky launching pad for fast-fingered strumming. The gorgeously bittersweet, enigmatic Landarico pairs Ilana’s wounded vocals against an austere wash of strings, then Petsalakis’ oud takes over, ambered and stately. The album winds up with Ven A Mi (Colombianas), a lively blend of flamenco and Romany guitar jazz. Toronto may have earned infamy as home to a broken social scene, but this is the together one: it’s hard to imagine anybody having more fun onstage than this merry band.

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