A dominating proportion of Hungarian lyrics paired with various Hungarian folkloric elements spread across fourteen compositions lend influential character but aren't all-defining on vocalist Nikolett Pankovits' ambitious sophomore outing, River. On the album, the Hungarian singer, based out of New York, is joined by an octet choir of handpicked Hungarian vocalists, who add complex harmonic movements and much body to traditional Hungarian songs that are treated to improvisational arrangements and Latin grooves. The result is a fusion of styles that defies national boundaries and claims a sound of its own.
Among a stirring collection of traditionals, originating from Europe's eastern hemispheres spanning from Transylvania to Moldavia, poems are found dispersed within somber atmosphere and intimate arco swells. Opener "Tele Van A Sötét Égbolt" is among those recitals, that go to dark placesthe title's translation revealing a "full dark sky." Not everything here resounds ominously though. "Ideki" showcases the playful combination of Latin rhythm with Hungarian folklore in a light-hearted fashion and sees elegant acoustic guitar playing going hand in hand with solemn trumpet leads.
Columbian guitarist Juancho Herrera is responsible for some of the arrangement highlights of the record as well as the nimble guitar work, while Pankovits takes care of a number of vocal arrangements herself, demonstrating her muscular musicality in a holistic way and not only as a strong singerher natural alto being a piercing presence throughout the record and especially sharp on the more laid-back arrangements, such as the haunting ballad "A Fenyes Nap" ("The bright day"). Here, Pankovits' voice shines with special brilliance and precise pitch. Not in any need of technical gymnastics or mind-bending range, her voice rather sways to the subtle instrumental backdrop and unforcedly penetrates the atmosphere like wings do air.
Repetitive patterns and pedal-point meditations are prevailing stylistic traits on River and are authentically asserted on the shorter tracks, such as "Amott Van Egy Kis haz," "Hargaszik A Nap" or a capella exercise "Tavsz." More intricate performances are undoubtedly presented in the fuller arrangements and also bring forth the jazz sensibilities of Pankovits' musical vision. "Kis Kece lanyom" presents instrumental dexterity through a deft piano solo and fierce percussion on a several bar vamp towards the end of the tune, while "Oh My Dear God"the sole English lyric feature of the albumcomprises one of the records' trickier vocal arrangements, combining syncopated lead-melody with polyphonic clusters in the vein of Georgian choirs and occasional question and answer sequences, shared between different parts of the choir cast.
Pankovits is not only a gifted singer but also purely and simply a natural musical spirit, whose knack for her craft is apparent at every turn. Sparsely instrumented displays, along the lines of "Ne Aludj El" or "Tele Van A Sotet Égbolt," demonstrate the dynamic depth of this production and capture the conviction with which Pankovits' voice cheers her ties to Hungarian culture and the boundlessness within music alike.
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