Anna Hoffman & Romancero Sefardi - 'Juego de siempre'

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Anna Hoffman & Romancero Sefardi
Juego de siempre
Sketis Music (

Juego de siempre attests to the truth of a claim in its own liner notes: “Sephardic music is not a periphery of musical culture.” Sung by Anna Hoffman in the ancient Spanish dialect of Ladino, the sentiments and atmospheres of this music are as poignant as ever. What immediately distinguishes this recording is its bareness. Note, for example, Hoffman's take on “Los Vestidos de los Novios,” a wedding song from Morocco sung unaccompanied. It's as if microphones have been placed a hair's breadth away from, if not inside of, every instrument, so that the natural resonance of each can shine through.

"Los Vestidos de los Novios"

Any blatant post-processing is occasional and tasteful, as in the aphasic denouement in "Morena me llaman." This perennial favorite of Sephardic programming gets an enlivening shot of tabla, as does the Andalusian song "Dezile al mi Amor," which further benefits from Oleg Mariakhin playing the soprano saxophone as if it were a duduk.

"Morena me llaman"
"Dezile al mi Amor"

Juego de siempre brims with such creative impulses. Mariakhin's soprano work continues to be a dominant color in “Yedí Kulé,” which at nine minutes is remarkable for its pathos alone. Named for the eponymous fortress (the “seven towers”) that stands to this day in Istanbul, it is sung from the point of view of one imprisoned within the fortress walls. Such self-pity bleeds from the violin of Gennady Lavrentiev, who is also responsible for the recording, mixing, and producing of the album, as well as many of its innovative arrangements.

"Yedí Kulé"

The songs “Ya Salió de la Mar la Galana” and “Una Muchacha en Selanica” bear a Greek influence that may be surprising to newcomers but which makes sense when one considers the diaspora of Jewish immigrants who fled to Thessaloniki after their expulsion from Christian Spain in the late 15th century. Santur and kalimba deepen the sound of the former song, while the latter reveals more surprises by inclusion of electric guitar and bansuri. Such modern touches pay homage to the melting pot of the songs' inception, even as they look ahead.

"Ya Salió de la Mar la Galana"

Other geographic touchstones include Turkey (“Entre las Huertas” and “Las Esuegras de Agora”) and the Balkans (“Alevanta Sultanachi” and “Noches Noches,” the latter an 11-minute bonus track featuring a guest appearance by Indian group Da-Saz). Two wedding songs—of which “Morenica,” a staple of the canon, stands out for its smoothness of execution—round out the program with optimism. And in the end, that's what Sephardic music is all about: an affirmation of a will to live that perseveres through tragedy and displacement with its scars and values intact. - Tyran Grillo

Listen to all tracks from the recording.

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