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Savina Yannatou – Sumiglia

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First posted on Mark Is Cranky:

Instrumental textures, to my ears, can provide some of the most arresting and wonder-filled moments of the listening experience: the low resonance of a bow scraping across a cello string, the ‘wet’ collision between a mallet and vibraphone, the air-filled throatiness of a baritone sax, the polytonal rippling of hands on tablas.

None of these instruments, in fact, no instrument, can come close to matching the power, flexibility and sheer beauty of that ultimate instrument: the human voice.

That beauty is on full display on Savina Yannatou’s Sumiglia. The Greek vocalist, along with her amazingly pliable band, Primavera en Salonico, takes us on a tour of European folk music styles. That palette is amazing: Greek traditional, Armenian, Italian, Palestinian, Albanian, Sicilian, Ukranian, Bulgarian, Corsican, Hungarian and Spanish.

I can’t quite decide what’s more amazing. The many facets of Yannatou’s voice (which covers much ground from childlike whispers to sexy growls) or that fact that she’s able to do this in so many languages and dialects. During softer passages, I’m reminded of Enya, or maybe Loreena McKennitt. When she gets ‘down low’ (check out the Southern Italian “Orrio tto fengo”) she sounds like nobody else.

Yannatou’s band should be given much credit as well. The all-acoustic lineup (accordion, qunun, kalimba, tamboura, oud, guitar, violin, viola, nay, bass and percussion) manages to sound both traditional and modern. They make the task of following a trail through so many musical idioms sound natural and effortless.

“World music” is a weak marketing concept applied to just about any ‘exotic’ or ‘ethnic’ recording. Toss that label out and give this recording a listen.

(For more on Savina Yannatou, check out Eric Olsen’s review of her first ECM recording Terra Nostra)

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