“This is a fascinating project, bringing together three venerable traditions: the plainchant of Western Europe, the folk music heritage of Bulgaria, and Carnatic (Southern Indian) classical music, which is itself leavened with folk elements. Add to that a subtle and sparing use of modern recording technology and you have a result as distinctive as the work of the Hilliard Ensemble with Jan Garbarek or that of Trio Mediaeval with Arve Henriksen. Each singer brought to the table a few pieces from their own culture’s repertoire, and each brought their own style and techniques to the performances, achieving a genuine fusion rather than some facile crossover product. Multi-tracking transforms the three into small choirs, but this is never overdone. One of the best examples is “Going South” where Eugenia Georgieva is multiplied into a one-woman Mystere des Voix Bulgares. In several places the over-dubbing permits the male singers to provide drones and rhythmic vocal percussion behind the melodies. All three singers also get solo time in the spotlight. Jeremy Birchall’s production creates a mesmerising ambience, which often evokes images of arcane rituals conducted for aeons on magical hillsides or in sacred groves, but it doesn’t matter if you can’t be doing with that sort of mystical stuff: this is a virtuosic (but never flashy) recital by three singers in total control of their gifts and with an evident love of their musical histories. Treat yourself.” Barry Witherden,contributor to BBC Music, Jazz Journal and The Wire
“This intriguing release belongs firmly in the “strange but brilliant, probably-shouldn’t-work-but-it-does-and-how! category. Billed as “a true celebration of the purity of singing”, it combines the vocal talents of three singers from completely different traditions and disciplines: classical bass Jeremy Birchall, Bulgarian singer Eugenia Georgieva (of the Perunika Trio) and Tamil singer Manickam Yogeswaran (from the South Indian Carnatic tradition). And in doing so, it emphasises a logical commonality of experience, a true sharing of the basic, yet also surprisingly sophisticated expression of emotion stemming from the use of the human voice. The idea to explore the possibility of melding voices and modes from three very different traditions came about through an experimental session which the three singers undertook for BBC Radio 3’s Late Junction programme in 2009, and has been excitingly developed ever since, culminating in the production of this CD.
The booklet note helpfully gives two meanings for the name Yantra: the Sanskrit word for “instrument” or “machine”; and a river in Northern Bulgaria with its source in the Balkans, “yatrus” being Thracian for “fast-flowing”. All of which shades of meaning are very much appropriate for the kind of music the threesome conjures from its pure vocalising. Each of the disc’s eleven pieces uses as a starting point or springboard a particular musical style or an idiom drawn from a distinctive branch of world music – often, but not always, sacred as opposed to secular in purpose – from out of which flows an improvisatory dialogue between the singers, which sounds both highly specified and spontaneous, and which in some cases involves an overlaying of musical ideas and progressions derived from another of the traditions. Many of these are distinct spiritual traditions – for instance, the opening track takes two movements from the 15th century mass Anon Excetre and introduces Indian and Bulgarian improvisations in counterpoint, while Lamentations takes an unusual tour from the vantage point of Tallis’ polyphonic masterwork and Thirukkural supplants an ancient Hindu meditation with a Bulgarian diaphony. On the other hand, Bow Song originates in a Tamil storytelling song and introduces vocal percussion for illustrative effect, and the startling, acerbic Bulgarian wedding song Gel Yano is transformed into a statement of mourning for the bride’s past. On a purely musical level such transformations can provide a fascinating, thrilling and stimulating ride in their own right, often imparting a quite different emotional perspective or complexion on the original pieces; and if any reservations can be envisaged for those listeners with any degree of familiarity with those original pieces (or indeed the respective traditional musics from which they stem), then these, I suspect, will reside in that sphere, i.e. conditioned rather by one’s own emotional response. For, although individual emotional states would appear to be well defined within each of the traditions, the very act of combining these within the compass of the same piece may have the curious effect of blurring those emotion-based differences, or offsetting them, so that sorrow blends into joy, lamentation into exultation (for instance), or even vice versa. This is mesmerising: both euphoric and liberating, and yet at the same time it might just also be mildly unsettling. For those who have no direct knowledge or previous experience of the various choral traditions, the best way to approach the music of Yantra may well be to do so with open ears, to go with the (fast) flow, the stream of musical consciousness, and just follow where it leads. Even so, for those listeners with even a modicum of background knowledge, the experience is, at least potentially, richer and more rewarding.
Oh, and there’s one more salient point to make about this disc: that the idea of just three voices sounding together (albeit three voices very different in timbre and attack) might seem on paper to be an unduly rarified prospect, and the singers have addressed that concern by making excellent use of the multitracking possibilities of the modern studio, providing imaginative and carefully balanced textures that sound natural rather than artificially contrived in any way. Congratulations to all concerned.”
David Kidman, FATEA Magazine
Album mini-review in fROOTS
“Vocal trio blending their traditions and repertoires: classical bass Jeremy Birchall, Tamil Carnatic singer Manic Yogeswaran, and at its best when featuring Eugenia Georgieva’s heart-tugging Bulgarian female vocals. Multi-tracking broadens the possibilities, including bass drones and vocal percussion” fROOTS
Our first album review, written by Mattie Poels, appeared in Dutch Musicframes.
“An album with lovely harmony vocals in a special combination of Bulgarian, Indian and Renaissance music. Every style of singing keeps its own identity in a cohesion in which three vocal colours mix wonderfully.”
YANTRA’s debut album A Journey Through Timelessness, released on 18th July 2014, made it to number 10 on DJ Ritu‘s July 2014 EBU album chart.
1) Various Essential Brazil Sony
2)Jazz Thali Jazz Thali Promo
3) Various Mali All Stars Wrasse
4)Rick Kej/Wouter Kellerman Winds of Samsara Promo
5)Jaro Milko Cigarros Explosivos Asphalt Tango
6)Various Celebrate Brazil ARC
7)Noura Mint Seymali Tzenni Glitterbeat
8)Kasai Allstars Beware The Fetish Crammed
9)Various R.G. To Palestine WMN
10) YANTRA A Journey Through Timelessness Promo