Savina Yannatou & Primavera en Salonico: Terra Nostra (ECM 1856)

Terra Nostra

Savina Yannatou
Primavera en Salonico
Terra Nostra

Savina Yannatou voice
Lamia Bedioui voice
Primavera en Salonico
Lefteris Ahgouridakis percussion
Yannis Alexandris oud, guitar, tamboura
Kostas Vomvolos kanoun, accordion, caliba, tamboura
Kyriakos Gouventas violin
Harris Lambrakis nay
Michalis Siganidis double-bass
Antonis Maratos percussion
Tassos Misyrlis cello
Recorded live in Athens, November 2001
Sound engineer: Vangelis Kalaras
Remixing and sound processing: Yannis Paxevanis, Studio “N,” Athens
Editing: Yannis Christodoulatos
Mastering: Chris Hatzistamou and Yannis Christodoulatos, Athens Mastering

Savina Yannatou is a wonder. As well versed in classical and jazz as in traditional and folk repertoires, the Greek singer turns every melody she handles into an alloy entirely her own. By the time this album was committed to digital in 2001, she had twenty years of acclaimed recordings, performances, and collaborations behind her—five with Primavera en Salonico. From the brilliance of what’s captured on this, her ECM debut (repackaged from its original appearance on Lyra), here’s hoping there will be twenty more.

Savina

To describe Yannatou’s relationship with Primavera is to describe the spark of flint and fire. The result is a conflagration that dances with innumerable colors. Some of those colors are easily identifiable as cultural, spanning as they do a variety of locative sources. Others are not so amenable to labeling, for they arise out of Yannatou’s effortless code switching and extended vocal techniques. Among those techniques, we are treated to everything from unadorned lullabies (as in “Adieu Paure Carnavas,” which comes from Provence) and swirling enchantments (“I’ve told you and I say again,” a Greek traditional from Asia Minor) to trance states of speech-song (the Caribbean traditional “Ah Mon Dié”) and cathartic ululations (“El Barquero,” by way of the seaside Spanish village of Asturia). In this vein we have also “Ballo sardo,” a Central Sardinian tune with whimsical touches glinting off an already compelling surface. In it, Yannatou sings, “Be careful, barons, to moderate your tyranny / otherwise I swear to you that you will lose your power,” effectively flagging the shattering power that one sweep of the lips can possess. The pen may be mightier than the sword, she seems to say, but the mouth outdoes them both.

The topography of Terra Nostra is thus varied as the cultures that populate it. The mournful violin that introduces “With the Moon I’m Walking,” a Greek traditional from Kalymnos Island and the concert’s prologue, shifts tectonically beneath Yannatou’s crosscurrents. It’s an appropriate starting point, a place of questioning and cosmos that sets up much of what will soon be answered. Highlights to follow include “Ivan Nadõnka Dúmashe” (Ivan Said to Donka), a song from the Bulgarian province of Eastern Rumelia. The region’s Turkish and Greek minorities can be heard in the kanoun, a Middle Eastern zither that shines starlight across a bed of lyrical regret. Nay virtuoso Harris Lambrakis—of an ensemble rich with instrumental talent—is a noteworthy facet of Primavera’s vibrant sound. His contributions to “A Fairy’s Love Song” (traditional from the Hebrides) and others draw threads of longing throughout.

Since the beginning of the Yannatou/Primavera collaboration, Sephardic music has been a vital part of the group’s programming, and in this performance we are treated to four examples. The upbeat and full sound of such refreshing, if also surreally realized, songs as “Jaco” and “Los Bilbilicos” lends uplift, while the strong percussive drive of “Tres Hermanicas Eran” looses a dream from slumber, made reality by the tactile force of the performance. In these songs we feel Yannatou at the center of crowded streets, where her immediate surroundings curl into a ball at her feet and purr to the tune of her descriptive powers.

Five songs feature co-vocalist Lamia Bedioui, who was born in Tunisia but has been based in Greece for nearly two decades. She brings a likeminded cross-culturalism to the group, beguiling in a handful of Arabic songs, such as the Meredith Monk-esque “Yiallah Tnem Rima” (Let Rim Sleep), a lullaby from Lebanon that carves brief passage through caves and sand with its largely vocal palette, and a rubato version of the undying “Wa Habibi.” She also heads the jangling fragmentations of the Italian Renaissance tune “Madonna de la Grazia” (Italian Renaissance) with equal parts tact and abandon.

What makes this record blossom is the interactive prowess of its musicians. Primavera stays true to its name, gathering all the power of the eponymous season to resurrect these songs from the depths of a long winter. Through clever instrumental pairings (of, for example, oud darting through jazzy bass lines) and juxtapositions of sacred and secular, Yannatou and her band prove that, once everything sprouts, it all becomes one homogeneous field, across which we are bid to run for love of living.

Alternate Terra
Alternate cover

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