Monday, February 10, 2014

Oles Brothers & Jorgos Skolias – Sefardix (2013) ****

Jorgos Skolias - vocals
Marcin Oles - bass
Bartlomiej Brat Oles - drums


By Adam Barch

The Sephardic Jewish Culture, with its heavenly beautiful music, poetry and above all personal warmth must be one of world's best kept and deepest secrets, especially so in Eastern Europe, which was dominated for centuries by the Ashkenazi Jewish way of life and of course Ashkenazi Jewish Culture. In Poland, which was the center of Eastern European Jewish life in pre-Holocaust period, Sephardic Jews (like my Family) were an oddity and in most cases lost their roots along the way, adopting the Yiddish language and the Ashkenazi customs and forgetting the Ladino language and the Sephardic traditions. But of course Sephardic Jews and their Culture continued to thrive in Greece, Turkey, North Africa and in the Holy Land. For centuries Jews lived in two parallel universes with almost no contact between these two cultural spheres. But absurdly the monsters, who brought the Holocaust on the Jewish People, managed to pay no attention to any such cultural differences; the Greek Jewish community, mostly from the ancient town of Salonika, found themselves in cattle wagons on their way to Auschwitz before the horror was over. Apparently Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews burned much in the same way.

This album, created by Poland's most revered Jazz rhythm section: bassist Marcin Oles and drummer Bartlomiej Brat Oles, collectively known as Oles Brothers, with vocalist Jorgos Skolias, obviously of Greek origin, pays homage to the Sephardic Culture, based on traditional Ladino and Greek songs, except for one piece which is an original composition by Bartlomiej Brat Oles, adopted and re-invented by the trio. All the texts were translated / transformed into the Greek language and Skolias performs them mixing many vocal techniques, from declamation, vocalese, chanting, whistling, murmuring and up to almost straightforward singing, always marvelously.

The album creates a wonderful atmosphere of intimacy and minimalism, which engulfs the listener slowly but insistently, breaking cultural barriers by its immediacy and intrinsic charm. I have no idea if this charm works as well on people who have never been exposed to this kind of music, and I hope it does, since the overall effect is simply magical. Skolias takes this music into further areas, like Greek Rebetiko, mainly due to his idiosyncratic expressionism, which emphasizes the affinity of all Middle Eastern cultures. Oles Brothers prove again their outstanding ability to keep their open-minded approach, regardless of the stylistic circumstances. Maciej plays some heartbreaking bow passages and amazing plucking solos and Bartlomiej plays percussion as if he was born on the desert planes of North Africa.

By all means this is one of the most original albums recorded in Poland since many years, a bold statement which is not afraid to take risks and break new ground. The idea for this project was initiated by Miron Zajfert, the artistic director of the New Jewish Music Festival in Warsaw, who deserves much credit, as does the For Tune label for recording and releasing this music, saving it for posterity. Jewish Culture connoisseurs are definitely grateful!

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