L'ham de Foc
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L'ham de Foc
Cançó de Dona i Home
Sonifolk 2002 (www.sonifolk.com)

cd cover This second recording by Catalan combo L'ham de Foc can be as intimidating as it is engrossing. Mara Aranda's powerful vocal is both earthy and ethereal. Any of some two dozen instruments of the Mediterranean and beyond that Efrén López doesn't contribute to any given track are ably added by Diego López, Eduard Navarro, Paco Bernal and guests, weaving a subtle and diverse tonal density whose dynamics can turn on a dime. The production is precisely and complexly layered, promising the opportunity and challenge of endless discovery.

"El Que Vull" begins with the low buzz of the trompa marina (a horn suggestive of the creaking of a wooden ship's hull), lute and mizmar (double-reed Arabic wind instrument similar to an oboe) intoning a sinuous figure over complex hand percussion, Mara Aranda's husky vocal taking up a related melody as well as offering an ululating background chorus, all building to a powerful crescendo. On "Un Nom," supernal meanderings on cavaquinho and mandolin introduce a slow, round-like melody, delicately voiced by Aranda, building to a dramatic choral bridge followed by a lilting gaita-led instrumental break, with clay pot and frame drum adding drive and tonal diversity.

The title track's lengthy opening oud solo leads to a calmly rolling march, Aranda's vocal in precise concert with a cello, the interspersed guitar breaks moving smoothly in and out of a waltz beat; the cumulative effect is one of understated passion. The gently dramatic ballad "A L'Aire" is driven by Agusti Vidal's glottal clarinet and Aranda's vocal, with an intriguing interplay between oud and clarinet on the bridge. "La Dansa dels Fadrins" begins quietly and with a slight dissonant note, Aranda's sweet vocal in a slightly higher register, but soon accelerates into a lute-driven frenzy over which Aranda authoritatively presides, tampura drone adding background mystery. The signature Bulgarian 11/16 form of "Kopenitsa" is elegantly suited to the band's talents, the breathless gyre dominated by flutes and dolçaina, a sort of bombarde.

Lyrics are sung in Catalan, printed in Catalan and Spanish. Cançó de Dona i Home makes a stunning first impression, and an even better second one. - Jim Foley

Note: I found the glossary at www.worldmusicportal.com useful in making sense of L'ham de Foc's instrumentation. - JF

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