With her international début, Terra Nostra
(ECM, '03), Greek singer Savina Yannatou and her group Primavera en Salonico continued a musical philosophy beginning with a series of Greek releases in '95 with the self-titled Spring in Salonica
. Mining traditional music largely from the Mediterranean area, but in some cases stretching as far abroad as Scotland and the Caribbean, Yannatou demonstrates how seemingly diverse ethnic styles are ultimately and inextricably linked. The subject of how musical concepts which began in the old world and, with exploration and colonization, travelled to destinations far and wide, evolving yet retaining elemental roots, is certainly broad enough for a life's work. Yannatou appears firmly committed to investigating the rich commonalities shared by all.
Primavera en Salonico is wholly unique instrumental group which combines instruments associated with Western culture (guitar, double-bass, violin, viola and accordion) with the more ancient Egyptian flute-like ney and harp-like qanun, Indian tamboura (a stringed drone instrument), Middle Eastern lute or oud, African kalimba, and a variety of percussion instruments. That Yannatou and her group should combine instruments from such a diversity of cultures is completely consistent with their belief that music truly exists without borders. As for Yannatou herself, she possesses a voice that is malleable to the various demands of the group's ethnic cross-section of material, and in many ways provides the glue that links the materialthis time sourced from countries including Greece, Italy, Albania, Bulgaria, Armenia and the Ukrainetogether into a cohesive and conceptual whole. Possessed of a formidable technique that ranges from subtle elegance to odd extended techniques that include a rapid articulation between normal range and falsetto, creating an odd kind of vocal undulation, Yannatou's main strength is her ability to get deep inside the ethnic dictates of a particular area's music while remaining true to her own voice.
Sumiglia differs from Terra Nostra in that, while the first release was a live recording licensed by ECM, the new record is a studio recording, and Yannatou's first working encounter with label owner/producer Manfred Eicher. What Eicher brings to the table is an even stronger narrative conceit that links the material together as transcending specific cultural concerns. "Evga Mana Mou"? may tell the story of a Greek bride, for example, but would be equally at home as an Irish lament or Norwegian folk song. Kostas Vomvolos, the band's arranger, is given an even broader reach this time around, with the instrumental virtuosity of the sextet even more predominantly on display. And while Yannatou's somewhat mercurial nature is still in evidence, Eicher's production strength is in making her occasional unpredictability fit more smoothly within the broader concept of the album's tale.
Yannatou and Primavera en Salonico assert that all music is world music, and with Sumiglia continue on a journey to explore the common language that is inherent in all music. Lines are blurred and borders dissolved as Yannatou and the ensemble draw connections between less-than-obviously linked cultures.
Yannatou and Primavera en Salonico will be embarking on a limited US tour in March.
Visit Savina Yannatou and Universal Classics on the web.