We say: Opera's loss is world music's gain
Although destined for the classical stage while studying voice and opera at the New England Conservatory of Music, this ethereally voiced singer-songwriter took a series of increasingly personal turns to find her real passions. She studied Indian classical singing then explored her own Celtic roots. From Scotland and Ireland Peia moved through those songlines to Basque music and then the European traditions which had traveled overland from India many centuries ago.
The result—on this, her third album—is an enchanting and successful melange of her adaptations of traditional folk songs (Hungarian, Scottish, Irish, Peruvian and Basque) alongside thoughtful originals which slip seamlessly between.
With a voice that possesses a high, weightless quality but connects to melancholy gravitas, at times she comes off as a more grounded Enya. Her a cappella Irish lament seems to appear through ancient mist in a valley, while the Peruvian ballad has a timeless beauty.
Accompanying herself on harmonium and charangon, and with a small ensemble of oud, fiddle, guitar, Irish pipes and whistle, Oregon-based Peia here delivers a nine-song collection which beguiles at every turn and offers gentle surprises along the journey.
Nu Haven Kapelye
We say: Not such a silent night with this boisterous ensemble.
When I was growing up in New Zealand, every Christmas Day our adopted Jewish family would come over and join us for food, beer, laughter and swimming at the local beach. It wasn't until much later the irony of Jewish people celebrating Christmas with us—who were of no religious persuasion—and exchanging presents occurred to me. Simpler and less divisive times in a land far from the generational and historical conflicts perhaps?
It seems in New Haven they too are of similarly inclusive persuasion. Because for almost two decades this community project orchestra—Jews and Gentiles alike—have been playing a big band klezmer concert on Christmas Day.
The music collected on this album ranges from Yiddish favorites to contemporary klezmer and secular songs. Balkan Beat Box's "Gross" gets an enjoyable and somewhat exotic treatment for more than seven minutes. Klezmer has become a global phenomenon in the past two decades—I have albums of it by bands from just about everywhere, except Israel oddly enough—and the folk-swing and jazzy style has wide appeal. The Nu Haven Kapelye players come from high school bands, jazz ensembles, classical backgrounds and across all ages—and their combined 35-member firepower sounds like they'd be a fun band to watch. Or better, to be in.
It also translates well to the 13 songs here with punching horns, the jazz players let off the leash for furious solos, some dark melodrama and mostly high energy treatments of music which seems instantly familiar because of its European folk roots. Although liberties are taken.
A Christmas tradition from New Haven—or “Nu Haven” if you will—which extends well beyond the season.
Ricordare: The Songs of Ennio Morricone
We say: It's pop Jim, but not as we know it.
Released late last year but too good and strange to let slip past us. This well-annotated 21-song compilation brings together the often left-field pop songs of Italian composer Morricone, best known for his idiosyncratic spaghetti Western soundtracks and orchestral music in films like The Mission.
When he turned his hand to songs—many of these appearing in movies—he brought a blend of unusual arrangements and orchestration. Here Italian singers Milva, Zucchero and Mina, American disco queen Amii Stewart and folk legend Joan Baez, Greece's Demis Roussos, New Zealand popera star Hayley Westenra, Britain's Jackie Lynton and the Pet Shop Boys, Scott Walker and others explore this extraordinary catalog.
Morricone's songs were nothing if not malleable and were played out in the global village, with French actor Gerard Depardieu closing this collection with the title track. Never directed at the pop charts, these songs however reached across the barriers of language courtesy of Morricone's gift for a memorable melody and arrangements which delivered the unexpected in small corners.
World music by virtue of its global reach and the roster of diverse singers who deliver it.
Graham Reid is a New Zealand-based travel/music/arts writer whose first book Postcards from Elsewhere won the 2006 Whitcoulls Travel Book of the Year Award in New Zealand. His second The Idiot Boy Who Flew won the Whitcoulls Reader Choice award. He hosts his own wide-screen website www.Elsewhere.co.nz,, loves deserts but also the chill of Stockholm, and is lucky enough to live in the South Pacific as an Aotearoa/New Zealand summer comes in.
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