On the tender and haunting The Book of Transfigurations vocalist Julia Ulehla and her partner guitarist Aram Bajakian interpret thirteen Moravian folk songs with a personal and contemporary touch. Joining them in the ensemble Dálava are a quartet of Canadian improvisers who add an additional layer of spontaneous lyricism to this memorable music.
Majority of these ballads come from transcriptions that Ulehla's Czech great grandfather made. Although the melodies, as well as the words, are original Ulehla and Bajakian have arranged them with a modernistic twist thus underscoring the timelessness of the material. The poignant "Dyž sem já šel pres hory / The rocks began to crumble," about the tragic impact of war on the individual, opens with drummer Dylan van der Schyff thunderous percussion and Bajakian's blistering guitar. Ulehla's passionate vocals echo against the backdrop of energetic and vibrant refrains. Bajakian expresses the primal chagrin within the tune with his rock influenced solo.
Keyboardist Tyson Naylor's tolling notes anchor the hypnotic and melancholic "Vyletěla holubička / The bloody wall." The story of a murder told by various narrators has a dramatic touch as Ulehla's rich voice soars over instrumental sound swells. The latter culminate into symphonic fragments that usher in the tragic conclusion.
Ulehla's chant like articulation of the wistful "Vydala máti / Mother gave away her daughter" is like an ethereal prayer over sparse and resonant tones from her bandmates. Cellist Peggy Lee's fluttering lines and Naylor's wistful and reverberating accordion underscore the tune's spiritual edge.
The lullaby influenced "Dyby ňa moja maměnka stara /Grass" matches otherworldly sonic effects with Ulehla's emotive singing. Bassist Colin Cowan's muscular lines anchor the collective cinematic harmonies that underscore the piece's innocent yearning and hints of double entendre.
The The Book of Transfigurations is an intimate and elegant paean to Ulehla's ancestral heritage. It is far from a mere retelling of a historic cultural expression destined for museums. On the contrary, what makes the album unique is its vivid and soulful rendition of this slice of popular art, thus preserving it by exposing its enduring relevance.
Track Listing: Ej, na tej skale vysokej (Seven pairs of eagles); Dyby ňa moja maměnka stará
(Grass); Dyž sem já šel pres hory (The rocks began to crumble); Co ste si
mamičko za dům stavjat dali (Iron bars, iron lock); Vyletěla holubička (The bloody
wall); Sem chaso spěchajte (You used to look like a lion); Před naším je
zahrádečka (Red violet);Studená rosenka (Souling); Na strážnickém rynku (War);
Vydala máti (Mother gave away her daughter); Okolo Hradišča voděnka teče (He’s
bringing something for me); Fašanku (Carnival); Pásl Jano koně (Sell us your
Personnel: Julia Ulehla:vocals; Aram Bajakian acoustic & electric guitars, percussion; Peggy
Lee: cello; Tyson Naylor piano, accordion, Farfisa organ, Hammond A-100,
Wurlitzer, Rhodes; Colin Cowan: double bass & electric bass; Dylan van der Schyff
drums & percussion.
I've always loved jazz ...my mother was a classical pianist and my aunt was a blues singer, who was managed by Clarence Williams (Bessie Smith's producer). As a young boy, they introduced me to people like Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, and Jimmy Smith
I've always loved jazz ...my mother was a classical pianist and my aunt was a blues singer, who was managed by Clarence Williams (Bessie Smith's producer). As a young boy, they introduced me to people like Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, and Jimmy Smith. We hung out at my Aunt Kate's Soul Food restaurant in Harlem after the matinees at the Apollo where I listened to their stories. I knew I wanted to be a jazz musician from then on. My mother wanted me to play piano, but my Aunt bought me a guitar. I've been playing ever since.
At my mother's early prompting, I first sang Blue Velvet at my Catholic elementary school...and all the nuns came running in and asked me to sing again, so I knew I must have sounded pretty good. I've been singing ever since.
I met Tony Bennett in Miami and he inspired me to return to New York. He was a great mentor.
The best show I ever attended is mpossible to say, I've seen so many great shows. From Tony Bennett to Pat Martino, Return to Forever to Weather Report...I've seen some great performances.
My advice to new listeners is don't let jazz intimidate you, the music has something for every listener and it is our American gift to the world.