This is music from the crossroads of Europe, centred on Greece and Turkey but also stretching to Lebanon and Armenia. The Greek diva Maria Farantouri fronts an ensemble directed by the Anatolian saz player Cihan Türkoğlu, on a set of traditional songs from the wider region with some new compositions by Türkoğlu. This world of mountains and valleys opens with martial frame drumming and saz riffing, with an avian ney flute melody from Christos Barbas. Türkoğlu, in a low baritone, sings the story of Hassan, a Macedonian analogue of Robin Hood.
“Yo Era Ninya”, which follows, starts with a prickly kanon and saz vamp from Meri Vardanyan and Türkoğlu, after which Farantouri launches into a Sephardic narrative, Anja Lechner curling low cello lines underneath. The first of Türkoğlu’s compositions, “Dyo Kosmoi Mia Angalia”, again has a melody carried on the cello: Farantouri hymns the power of Eros to end conflict. Elsewhere the record returns to Macedonia for a wedding song from Chalcidice, the vocal tender and restrained against the kanon; diverts to Lebanon and Syria for an Arabic Good Friday hymn; and, to a repetitive saz pattern, sets the philosophy of Heraclitus.
At the end comes “Kele Kele”, a traditional Armenian song preserved by the country’s great composer Komitas Vardapet and now a solid fixture in its repertoire. Farantouri navigates the microtonal warps and wobbles of the melody with aplomb, her voice rich with resonant vibrato. “I am dying,” laments the narrator, “for your footsteps” — an appropriate ending for a record that has celebrated love and the urge to cross borders.
Also new on ECM is Resonances by Marco Ambrosini and Ensemble Supersonus. The signature instrument here is Ambrosini’s nyckelharpa, but the pieces (which range from Biber to Hildegard von Bingen, via Frescobaldi, Swedish folk song and the court music of the Ottoman Empire) are made strange by the combination of eerie overtone singing from Anna-Maria Hefele — which sounds scarcely human, even on the fragment of Hildegard — and jaw harp from Wolf Jansch. The compositions from the members of the band are angular and modern, most strikingly so on Eva-Maria Rusche’s “Erimal Nopu”, a hectic canon that starts with her harpsichord and grows ever-more excitingly dissonant. Switching from a baroque toccata to pulsing jaw harp bagatelles, Resonances is constantly, icily, unsettling.
‘Beyond The Borders’ is released by ECM