"Eleven Short Stories" album has been included in the "BEST ALBUMS OF 2012" list by KONTRA PLAK, the coolest record shop in Istanbul.


Sleeping Hedgehog Blog September 2011
Erdem Helvacıoğlu and Ros Bandt: Black Falcon / Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal: Chamber Music
BY DONNA BIRD, ON SEPTEMBER 4TH, 2011

I listened to both of these CDs some weeks ago and then set them aside, with all good intentions to review them while the aural impressions were fresh in my mind.  So much for good intentions! But better late than never.  They have more in common with each other than might be evident at first listen, so I thought I would write the review on both of them at the same time.

Black Falcon is a collaboration between two musicians who are also composers.  As his name might well suggest, Erdem Helvacıoğlu is Turkish.  He began performing with the symphonic rock band Too Much when he was still in high school.  He studied electroacoustic music composition and sound engineering at Istanbul Technical University, and while there started to make a name for himself in international electronic and ambient music circles.  He has collaborated with several  other artists and composed music for film and theater.  As a performing musician, he plays electric guitar and live electronics.

Ros Bandt, the other performer on Black Falcon, has a PhD in Musicology from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia and has been writing about, composing and performing music for at least thirty years.  On this CD, she plays the tarhu, which is a spike fiddle based on a traditional Turkish stringed instrument called the tanbur.

Black Falcon runs just over fifty minutes long and features seven tracks, varying in length from the ten-minute title track to the under two-minute “Game Country.”  According to the liner notes (challenging to read in very small white type on a black background), the title refers to a rare and nomadic species of bird that has both an Australian and a European variety.  The artists used this bird as the inspiration for a series of largely improvisational pieces intended to express their concerns about the impact of the modern, human-created world on such wild beings.  The recordings for the CD were completed in a single day.

As you might well expect, listening to Black Falcon brought to my mind the marvelous collaborations between Brian Eno and Robert Fripp, e.g. Evening Star.  It’s definitely ambient music, the kind of sound that just moves through you, so that you feel it as much as you hear it, and experience some surprise when it ends, because it seems so natural.

When I listened to the CD again while I was writing this review, I also noticed that Bandt occasionally (at least on the title track) uses scales that sound Middle Eastern.  I also noticed that the tarhu sounds quite a lot like a cello.  Tracks 2 (“Falconer’s Knot”) and 6 (“Moment of Delicacy”) brought to mind some of the King Crimson instrumentals I always loved–Fripp was playing on those, of course.  And Helvacıoğlu’s guitar work on track 3 (the very short “Game Country”) reminded me of Al Dimeola.  Mind you, I offer these comparisons to give you some idea in words of how this music sounds.  But I don’t want to suggest that it’s derivative in any way–it’s not!

Chamber Music represents another collaboration between two artists from different cultural and experiential backgrounds.  On this CD, Ballaké Sissoko plays the kora (a traditional instrument with a very large, half-spherical resonating chamber–made from a calabash–a very long neck, and many strings) and Vincent Segal plays the cello.  This is NOT the kind of chamber music composed by classical icons like Haydn or Mozart.  It’s not even the kind of work I have heard from contemporary chamber groups like the Kronos Quartet or the Turtle Island String Quartet. I imagine this chamber as having clay walls and a packed earth floor, maybe a small fire burning in a pit in the center of the space.

Ballaké Sissoko, born in Mali, is the son of noted griot (storyteller) Djelimady Sissoko.  He has been recording music since the late 1990s, has done session work with Taj Mahal and collaborated with Italian composer and pianist Ludovico Einaudi.  French cellist Vincent Segal performs with the trip-hop band Bumcello, which has recorded six albums to date.

I revisited Chamber Music while I was writing these paragraphs, and was once again struck by the delicate beauty of the music and the clean production values of the recording.  These original compositions have a spare and haunting quality that (at least for me) evokes introspection and feelings of calm–I can easily imagine gazing into that fire in the chamber I described above.  The combination of the plucked strings on the kora and the bowed strings on the cello really work nicely.

Recorded in Mali, Chamber Music runs just under an hour in length and includes ten tracks.  On tracks 3  (“Houdesti”) and 6 (“‘Ma-Ma’ FC”), guest artists fill out the sound with some interesting percussion, including a lovely balafon (wooden xylophone) and another stringed instrument called ngoni that is a bit like a banjo.  Track 7, “Regret-À Kader Barry”, features both spoken word and singing by guest artist Awa Sanagho, who has a lovely husky voice.  This track also includes percussion, a pair of small metal tubes called karignan.

As I was completing my background research on Chamber Music, I noticed that some of the tracks are available with video on Youtube–live recordings from the 2009 Rhino Festival in Lyon, France.  “‘Ma-Ma’ FC” is certainly worth checking out and will give you a very good sense of the music and of the rapport between these two artists.  The camera work is also quite tasty, very clear black and white, with close-ups of the complex finger work done by each musician.  The space they are performing in appears to be a church, which only adds to the ambience.

Six Degrees is a small independent company that aims to publish recordings that cross cultural and genre boundaries.  I would say that Chamber Music accomplishes this goal quite admirably!  While it’s difficult to compare this music to anything else I know, I thought a bit of the Penguin Café Orchestra (especially on “‘Ma-Ma’ FC”) and of the Paul Winter Consort.  The CD will definitely stay in my collection.

DONNA BIRD

(Pozitif Muzik Yapim, 2010)

(Six Degrees Records, 2011)
RELATED DISCOGRAPHY

Black Falcon