Nedudim Reviewed in Fanfare
NEDUDIM. Fifth House Ensemble; Baladino . CEDILLE 90000 164 (58:00 E)
Fifth House Ensemble is a Chicago-based new music group known for advocacy of young composers with innovative, audience-engaging ideas, issue-oriented programming, and pioneering explorations of cross-genre music-making. The cross-genre adventuring is most in evidence here, since 5HE (as it abbreviates the name) collaborates in this program with Mediterranean folk music ensemble Baladino. The Israeli group specializes in Sephardic and Ladino-Jewish diasporic Spanish-music, as well as “everything from Egyptian darbuka to Armenian duduk,” but with a twist. It uses the classic folksongs as a starting point, updating the traditional music with subtle electronics, amplification, non- traditional techniques, a stronger, sometimes rock-like, beat, and a decidedly “pop” ethos.
Initial hesitation is a reasonable reaction, first regarding the contemporary music performed by 5HE. l, however, have often found the so-called alt-classical scene fascinating, and enjoyed 5HE’s first album, Excelsior. It is an attractive collection of accessible contemporary works, drawing on aspects of popular idioms, while offering music that is decidedly “classical” in its technical rigor. Then there is the matter of “updating” of Sephardic classics. (That tradition is, by the way, well served by a release by the Cavatina Duo of new compositions for guitar, flute, and other instruments on Cedille, reviewed by me in Fanfare 39:6.) I am happy to report, however, that any concern with “adulteration” is put to rest by Baladino’s first CD, Dos Amantes: the performances joyously vital and the treatment of the source material affectionate and respectful.
So what does the combination offer? Dan Visconti, the arranger or composer of most of the pieces on this CD, writes that the recording features “music chosen by each musician that reflects a cherished musical experience, from Baladino vocalist Yael Badash’s earliest musical memory of the lullaby Durme Durme that frames my composition Native Tongues, to American composer Ken Benshoof’s Traveling Music reimagined as a musical journey through a menagerie of exotic non-western instruments.” He goes on to explain the purposeful combining of different traditions “in unexpected ways, as in the album’s funky Greek Blues and a version of my fiddle-driven Black Bend, where folk and bluegrass licks play off of Persian-influenced improvisation.” The predominant sound is Middle-Eastem, but even then the other influences keep intruding, and illuminating, and causing a smile of surprise. And then there are the instruments of 5HE. Traditional woodwind and string instruments, which sometimes add a frame of European chamber sonority, as they do in the opening Balkan/Ladino Si Veriash a la Rana-a comparison with Baladino’s “solo” recording on Dos Amantes highlights the richness of the combination-but they are also the source of the Appalachian fiddling, and the blues. And is that a touch of New Orleans clarinet there? It is never predictable, as when Baladino vocalist Yael Badash and string player/producer Thomas Moked Blum are joined by 5HE flutist Melissa Snoza in Robert Beaser’s touching arrangement of He’s Gone Away, for flute and guitar, further arranged by Visconti to include voice. If that doesn’t melt your heart, it likely is made of stone.
But how does one describe that which defies description? This is one of those impossible to classify releases that is such a delight that it’s a shame it might be missed by those who look for their music in defined niches. Is it serious chamber music? Yes, indeed it is. Is it world music? Yes, and though not traditional in approach, it is always authentic in its treatment of the source material. Is it classical, or folk, or jazz? There are elements of all. Written out or improvised? Both. Is hearing it an experience that is not likely to soon be forgotten? Absolutely! Ronald E. Grames
The original review was published in the September/October edition of Fanfare.