Never a dull moment intrudes on this debut recording from France-based trio Ekova. Instrumentation, based on Mehdi Haddab's oud and Arach Khalatbari's hand drums and other percussion, retains a Middle Eastern acoustic flavor while providing exceptional drive and insistence, synthesizer contributing sparely and tastefully. But the central attraction is the vocal performance of Dierdre Dubois, delivered in her very own fluent gibberish, a convincing variety of tongues, separately crafted for each song. The effect is unique and a bit mysterious, the phonemes more compellingly language-like than in scat, but stubbornly resistant to recognition. Dubois' vocal mastery itself is sterling, husky and sweet by turns with an edgy, often cutting, astringency, its wide timbre range exploited cunningly and precisely, embellished with trills, whoops, whispers, and glottal stops.
The lead-off track, "Starlight at Daden," maintains a slow, deliberate pace, but tonal developments rush dramatically at the listener like siroccos, Dubois' vocal suggesting Celtic and Hindu influences, often at the same time. "Todosim" opens with a quiet drone behind a chattering oud figure, soon joined by thundering drums in a bouncy waltz beat, Dubois' vocal alternating between clear solo verses and choruses accompanied by breathless harmonies. Invigorating stylistic miscegenation reaches a zenith on "Ditama," a quick, dense piece on which Haddab's oud conspires with Dubois' multi-tracked vocal to suggest Latin and dance-hall reggae influences.
"Sebrendita" offers quietly rocking oud, invoking both African Griot and American country blues. Dubois' vocal is confidential and intimate, her custom vocables emphasizing aspirated leading vowels, speculative folk music of a profoundly alien yet sympathetic place. "Sister" is a driving gallop, Dubois' vocal accumulating harmonies along with frenzy, culminating in a breath-taking sudden stop. In the slow, meditative "Helas and Reason," vocal patterns drift past at various reverb-induced distances, clear utterance of the title sounding odd, like a false cognate, amidst the gibberish. A traditional Irish tune, "In My Prime," is subjected to abstract monotonal decomposition worthy of Tom Waits; although sung in English, it remains lyrically ineffable. My favorite track, at least today, is "Temoine," hypnotic plucked strings anchoring Dubois' exuberantly multi-tracked vocal to the wind, whooping melodic fragments a flock of birds, overall harmony in infinite variety.
Unlike many worthy and challenging musical innovations, "Heaven's Dust" is riveting at initial exposure, and only gets better with repeated doses. Jim Foley
The Sony-France web site offers brief, low-fi samples of the music
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