Savina Yannatou and Elena Ledda
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Savina Yannatou and Elena Ledda
with Primavera en Salonico and Mauro Palmas
Tutti Baci
Lyra, Greece / Resistencia, Spain (www.resistencia.es)

Out of the blue and despite Savina Yannatou's recent signing to ECM Records, comes this surprising collaboration between Yannatou and Sardinian singer Elena Ledda, recorded live in the studio with Greek ensemble Primavera en Salonico and Italian artist Mauro Palmas.

The other surprise is the quality of this encounter. Yannatou's previous release, 2005's Sumiglia, was awkward at times but Tutti Baci finds the Greek singer and her musicians once again at the top of their game: vocal experimentation, peerless dedication to the project and great chemistry. This record is important without being precious and builds upon her previous work without sounding like a direct copy.

But this is as much Ledda's recording as Yannatou's. Their voices blend well together and musically they are very close. She sounds like a big sister: knowingly passionate, assured and in touch with Earth, ably assisted by her own long-time collaborator, Mauro Palmas.

The bonhomie of the artists comes through everywhere on the recording, which works as something of a 'Best Of' collection as they tackle songs they know and love. Ledda's version of "Saranda Palikaria," followed by the 'Asianized' version of "Yanni mou to mandili sou," performed by Yannatou, are unexpected treats. The former is one of the essential traditional songs of Greece (dealing with the Independence war of 1821), while the latter is another traditional Greek song often covered by Yannatou, but never in this over-the-top-but-makes-perfect-sense way and it shows off the ensemble's outstanding inventiveness.

The other indication that this was a fun project is the title track "Tutti Baci." In Italian it is "All Kisses" but in the transliterated Greek ("Tout' oi batsoi") it's "These cops." For a song loosely based on a raid on an illegal gambling den by the aforementioned policemen in a vintage rembetiko vein, this surely is a masterly play of one-up(wo)manship. Ledda on "Procurade" is outstanding, her voice serious, mellifluous and playful, yet ever masterful.

Yannatou has the ability to find able collaborators and make the most of them and this record is testament to this. It's not strictly a Yannatou or Ledda recording, not an Italian nor a Greek work. The fluidity that characterizes Yannatou's voice, her desire to jump on a project if it feels right, her interaction with musicians and her choice of her repertoire displays how smart she is, and in this particular record what started out a long time ago as an afterthought (a vocal experimentation on a traditional song) becomes the norm. If you do not like Yannatou's wilder flights of fancy, then steer away from this record. If, on the other hand, you think that those improvisations are the unique characteristic she brings to the troubled label of 'world music,' then you've just found what is probably her best record so far. This record seems like it was great fun to make and it succeeds, hands down, in being fun to listen to. Enjoy, and don't forget to laugh at all the jokes. - Nondas Kitsos

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