Tur Saulīte Pērties Gāja by Iļģi

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Tur Saulīte Pērties Gāja
artist release (www.ilgi.lv/en)

Iļģi is a vital Latvian folk ensemble who passed their thirtieth year as a group back in December, 2011.

Correction: Iļģi call themselves a post-folk band. 

The group, formed by the violinist Ilga Reizniece and joined by Maris Muktupavels on bagpipes and kokle (a Latvian, trapezoid-shaped stringed instrument that is like a zither), immersed itself in Latvian folk music and traditions.The band's researches took in the practices of Soviet Latvia in the 1980s (the Soviets did not 'officially' withdraw until 1994), and over the years Iļģi broadened its sonic palette.

While there have been many albums by Iļģi which are thematic (i.e., 1998's Saules meita (Daughter of the Sun) explored the “archetypal Latvian woman” of song and myth; 2005's Totari focused on winter solstice/Christmas rituals; 2006's Ne uz vienu dienu (Not Just For One Day) was an album of wedding songs), the group's sound has pushed the boundaries of the folk tradition. 

Hence, Iļģi's 'post-folk' quality came from reaching beyond pure folk music and utilizing other musical forms inventively, as well as exploring Latvian identity in pre- and post- occupied Latvia. My first exposure to Iļģi's music was the album Sēju vēju (I Sow The Wind, 2000), which was hard-rocking and experimental; big drums, explosive bagpipes, and great vocals (a period of the band's history in which they sounded like a Baltic relative of the Swedish group Hedningarna) still make this a favorite.

Tur Saulīte Pērties Gāja is another thematic album from Iļģi (now a quintet, with the occasional guest), in which the band has created music related to the Latvian pirts.  The pirts is a place for washing the body, and there is a spiritual dimension to this act of cleansing so that the soul is also refreshed.  While engaging in this ritual washing, a pirts slota is utilized to gently flog oneself (or another); the effect is one of invigoration. The pirts slota is comprised of a bundle of leafy twigs, but there is a sacredness to this item that makes the pirts keepers in Latvia akin to shamanic figures. Given the contemplative immersion and activity of the pirts, Iļģi sought to craft a music that would reflect this experience.  Hence, Tur Saulīte Pērties Gāja is a very soothing album, one that leaves folk-rock histrionics behind.  The album begins with 'Pirts kurināšana,' a tune which immediately gives the impression of dripping water (the kokles and kalimba are used extensively throughout Tur Saulīte Pērties Gāja, providing a consistent point of reference).  In homage to the idea that “spirits are tossed” (water is ladled onto heated rocks, as in a sauna), the hiss of steam emerges up through the music at various intervals, and the chime of bells also ring out. The overall effect is both relaxing and magical.

Many of the tracks on Tur Saulīte Pērties Gāja take their time to develop, and the interplay of the instruments often results in a trance-like quality. The instrumental 'Ceļš' ('The Road') is a wonderful example of the stringed instruments in the band mixing with the kalimba.    By itself, 'Ceļš' is a charming tune, but it is given additional thrust by the addition of a lovely little bass-line around the four minute mark. 'Pēršana' details the kinds of plants utilized for the pirts slota, and it alternates between sounding a bit like African highlife music gone Latvian, with the expressive chanting of the flora. 'Lidošana' is another watery, ambient piece in which Egons Kronbergs' guitar playing shines against Muktupāvels' accordion. By the end of the record, Iļģi offer 'Paldies,' a thank-you to those who maintain the pirts.

Listening to Iļģi's latest put me in mind of modern classical composers such as Steve Reich and Philip Glass.  The group has created a very minimalist record, where certain phrases are repeated to great effect, and like the waters of the pirts, glisten and are refracted across the different compositions.  It's a quiet form of powerful.  Tur Saulīte Pērties Gāja is a kind of 'ambient folk,' but not really ambient; it is like chamber folk, but not really classical.  Iļģi may well have achieved post-folk perfection, marrying tradition to art music, and providing an aural pool in which listeners can immerse themselves. - Lee Blackstone       

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