Potir - Gothic City
As an artist, musician, and archaeologist of atmospheres, Andrey Nazarov is a true renaissance man. On this debut release under the moniker Potir, he plays flutes, bagpipes, psaltery, hammered dulcimer, lutes, sitar, and a range of percussion instruments, singing all the while. Aside from scant augmentations by vocalist Razana Rustom and violist Svetlana Petrova, every audible color comes from Nazarov's palette. Played on mostly period instruments (one of which dates back more than 300 years), this ethno-musical time warp paints medieval scenography across the stage of the here and now.
Anyone familiar with the "Witch Trilogy," the moody masterwork by Shinjuku Thief (a.k.a. Darrin Verhagen), should feel right at home in the ambient-acoustic collages of Gothic City. Yet where in Verhagen's soundscape townspeople gathered with their torches and pitchforks under threat of shadows, the murmuring crowds of this album's “Prologo” evoke an open fairground, where the revelry of hand drums, flutes, and bagpipe coalesces out of shared excitement rather than fear. Further incidental touches include the crickets and frogs in “Culi-Cula” (a pagan bonfire dance), the menagerie of “Arabi” (sung to the accompaniment of handclaps), and the birdsong of “Ad Mortem Festinamus.” The latter's chorused vocals recall the early work of another multi-instrumentalist, Stephan Micus. It's also the first of a handful of tunes culled from the "Red Book of Montserrat," a 14th-century Catalonian manuscript of devotional songs nearly lost to Napoleon's wave of destruction.
Also notable from its extant portions is the “Polorum Regina,” of which Nazarov's falsetto belies its history as a pious song meant for pilgrims wanting to sing and dance without disturbing those in contemplation.
Sounds of the street return in “Miragres Fremosos,” which along with the “Cantiga LXXVII” comes from "Las Cantigas de Santa Maria," a book of songs to the Virgin Mary compiled by Alfonso X of Castile, who reigned in the late 13th century. Here a sitar adds remarkable detail and clarifies the music's eastern roots.
Such acts of faith are counterbalanced by the “Ductia,” a brisk dance from 13th-century England, and “Tourdion,” a triple-meter dance from 15th-century France.
The album reaches its most raucous destination, “In Tavern,” with all the sounds of its namesake—belching, laughter, and chatter—over rustic arco strains. Three “Preludes,” each a pairing of psaltery and droning undercurrents, act as rest stops throughout the journey, to which the drums and flutes of the “Epilogo” bring closure, fading into Gregorian chant with tolling bell and sounds of fire. Perhaps the witches burn after all. - Tyran Grillo
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