Eva Quartet & Hector Zazou - The Arch
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Eva Quartet & Hector Zazou
The Arch
Elen Music (elen-music-label.com/)

World music is not about expressing the world at large. How can one capture something that is forever changing? It is precisely the unpredictable intermingling diaspora of peoples, ideas, objects that makes this planet we call home the fascinating assemblage that it is. World music, then, is about forging a world in and of itself from the very stuff of our existence. At its best, it inhales human experience and pays its rewards through the ear. This is the truth of The Arch, an unparalleled collaboration that reinvigorates the postmodern soundscape in ways not felt since perhaps Deep Forest's eponymous 1993 debut.

Recorded between 2006 and 2009, and boasting over 50 musicians* from four continents, The Arch is the brainchild of the late pan-cultural electronics wizard Hector Zazou (in what was to be his final recording) and producer Dimiter Panev, whose longstanding advocacy for Bulgarian artists helped bring this project to fruition. The title is a mission statement, the album's praxis duly symbolized. Beyond the building of bridges, it casts a heartfelt need for global community during an age when the term's keystone has already begun to erode. And perhaps no ambassadors could mend it better in this regard than the Eva Quartet, whose tenure with Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares has instilled in them a sonic masonry like no other.

Bulgarian crossovers, while infrequent, are by no means new. An overlooked soundtrack (released 1989 on 4AD) by Philippe Eidel and Arnaud Devos for the film Bunker Palace Hotel featured cruder yet enchanting juxtapositions of synthesizers, classical instruments, and Les Voix Bulgares de L'ensemble Radio Sofia, while the collaboration between the Bulgarian Voices “Angelite” and Tuvan folk masters Huun-Huur-Tu, through the prism of pianist Misha Alperin's Moscow Art Trio, produced the captivating Fly, Fly My Sadness (1995, Shanachie) and its less successful follow-up, Mountain Tale (1999, Zebra Acoustic Records). I was fortunate enough to experience the latter project live in Connecticut in 1997, and vividly remember the group's cellular approach, whereby each culture occupied a block of time, intermingling only occasionally.

Yet as the Eva Quartet blossoms in the opening “Lazaritsa,” we encounter a total integration. We believe in what is being sung, even if in the absence of lyric translations we might not have the means to understand it. In so trusting their spirit, swept up by the echoing flute of Carlos Nunez amid Zazou's lush digital spread, we see reflections of ourselves rising from the waters with new wings attached. Similarly evocative moments abound in all that follows.

Of the extensive guest list, Norwegian nu-jazz trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær and Japanese composer-pianist Ryuichi Sakamoto are the most distinct instrumentalists. The former's extended singing in “Balno li ti e, sino ljo” recalls the classic work of Jon Hassell, while Sakamoto's accents give traction to the same. Italian harpist Cecilia Chailly spins the tether from which a solo voice swings across a reverberant abyss. Others join that voice, at once ancestral and the same, meshing with American guitarist Bill Frisell's electric ghosts. “Razvivay, Dóbro” gets us into more rhythmically savvy territory, exploiting the studio's trickery for all the secrets it has to divulge. Piano riffs trade places with strings and samples, while lines from another trumpeter, Italy's own Andrea Guzzoletti, pay homage to Molvær's Khmer. Vocalist Daniel Spassov of Bulgaria makes a notable appearance alongside the quivering of Armenian duduk master Jivan Gasparyan.

Fans of Omar Faruk Tekbilek will feel right at home in “Planinsko” and “Dostoino Est.” Due in large part to the synergy of the Diva Reka Group, both volley between pointillist gestures and nomadic bowing from violinist Zoltan Lantos. Sounding more like a sarangi, his presence moves with spontaneity and flame. The second piece takes a 9th-century anonymous plainchant as its seed, and is a standout track for its evocative drama and clarity. The tessellated call and response of “Snoshti si, mamo, zamraknakh,” with its Arvo Pärt touches, is Zazou's deepest statement. Another easy favorite is “Minka.” A memorable cameo on the kaval, in the hands of Kostadin Gentchev, allows that Eva rawness to ring out with a maternal, seamless blend. The coalescence achieved here as the mood shifts into an all-out jam is also wondrous. The final “Kadóna” takes our pains and reveries alike, cinches them in a drawstring bag made of twilight, and casts them into the pond where our childlike selves are forever reflected, dancing in the afterlife before they are born.

One can hardly attend to this album without upholding two appearances by the legendary Laurie Anderson. What begins as a Hildegard von Bingen-esque tract in “Gospodi, Pomiluy”—also based on a 9th-century fragment, only now seen through a prism of Bollywood cinematics—floats Anderson's astute observations of gender inequality over an engaging beat and lilting strings. And in the title piece she unspools a haunting meditation on maternity and nature while ululations burn down the backdrop like lit steel wool. Both are prime examples of how the album uses words to express the unspeakable.

In this sense, voices remain supreme. It is a true delight to hear them so nakedly. In the deep Bulgarian flavors of “Yana,” for instance, they linger even when earthly instruments bleed into the foreground. Theirs is the world we have entered, for it has entered us. - Tyran Grillo

* The artist list includes Laurie Anderson (USA), Sofia String Quartet (Bulgaria), Bollywood String Orchestra (India), Roberto Cechetto (Italy), Cecilia Chailly (Italy), Kaushiki Charkaborty (India), David Coulter (UK), Diego Amador (Spain), Diva Reka Band (Bulgaria), Antoni Donchev (Bulgaria), Robert Fripp (UK), Bill Frisell (USA), Djiavan Gasparian (Armenia), Andrea Guzzoletti (Italy), Mehdi Haddab (Algeria), Dimiter Hristov (Bulgaria), Kostadin Kostadinov (Bulgaria), Radosvet Kukudov (Bulgaria), Zoltan Lantos (Hungary), Nils Petter Molvær (Norway), Carlos Nunez (Spain), Dobri Paliev (Bulgaria), Stoyan Pavlov (Bulgaria), Violeta Petkova (Bulgaria), Renaud Pion (France), Minna Raskinen (Finland), Bill Rieflin (USA), Ryuichi Sakamoto (Japan), Stefano Saletti (Italy), Daniel Spassov (Bulgaria), Janne Strömstedt (Sweden), and others.

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CD available by special order from cdRoots

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