World Music Report / Shiv’a & Gomory

“Gottlieb is an extraordinary woman. She seems to be made completely of music

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Listen to not one, but two of Ayelet Rose Gottlieb’s recordings; one featuring her own compositions. There is a swirling wind of mysticism that fills the air. The mystery and majesty of it surrounds me. What catches me by surprise though, are the vocalastic leaps and dives that soar and plunge as you become mesmerised not only by the Zen-like ululations of the music but more so by the whimsy and fervour with which the music transforms you with its dramatic shifts in mood, the elegant entwining of melody and rhythm, the beauty of musical direction and the sense of pacing as a whole. I am hard-pressed to find words to describe work like this… it seems to mark the furthest limits yet attained by human art and imagination. This is how the warmly voluptuous sound of Ayelet Rose Gottleib’s music will affect you.

Gottlieb is an extraordinary woman. She seems to be made completely of music; that and she has a voice of an angel. Her music demands operatic glamour. With her diamantine tone, dramatic flair and free-soaring top notes, Ayelet Rose Gottlieb provides it in spades. Her magnificent music is refracted through a prism and what you get are the purest of primary colours. She has a natural gift for melodic gracefulness. She brings all of this to bear on two of the most wonderful recitals – Shiv’a and Gomory – Book of Angels – Volume 25, a John Zorn project. The former features extraordinary music composed and performed by Gottlieb with a quartet. And the latter abounds in novel textures, evocative word setting and audacious four-part harmonies shared by Gottlieb with Sofia Rei, Sara Serpa and Malika Zarra, together called Mycale.

A born stage animal and story-teller, Gottlieb is equally in her element in the a cappella group Mycale, as in the more flamboyant setting of her dramatic extended work, Shiv’a. She times and colours her work to perfection: in the thunderous majesty of Shiv’a where she appears with melancholy mystery towards the end of the piece and in Gomory where she veils her naturally bright timbre and the swagger of joyful hymnic melody in the long dream-like indolence of the music. Here, of course, Zorn’s music is voiced by three other wonderful musicians as well – Rei, Serpa and Zarra – the voices of each underpinned with Zorn’s gossamer semiquavers; the beating of angels’ wings upon which each vocalist displays an acute awareness of harmonic colour. Each of these two recordings is special in its own way:

Ayelet Rose Gottlieb: Shiv’a

The ten-part, extended composition has been written for string quartet and percussion. The music resides where the heart beats. Composed in commemoration of the passing of three of Gottlieb’s friends. Performed by the quartet Ethel, the music is wry and reflective, exploring the inward pain of the heartbeat as it mourns the loss of life. The music cycles through emotional states, repeatedly touching a radiant purity tinged with sadness and joy, an almost unbearably beautiful yet austere ecstasy, easily the finest work that Gottlieb has done yet. It’s dynamic, rumbling percussion is offset by the delicate sensuality of the strings, insinuating the bitter sense of loss.

The songs themselves and their sequence are chosen around the melancholy theme of death with special attention to the savagely beautiful lyricism of the strings playing across the drums and percussion colourings of Satoshi Takeishi. There is a range of situations each demanding a separate song setting. Gottlieb joins in the proceedings with gorgeous wordless vocals towards the end of the piece, tackling the music with Judaic zeal and typical Buddhist reticence. In the score for the quartet and Takeishi, Gottlieb displays outstanding musicianship, also singing with vocal precision and beautifully shaded sadness. As a chamber recording Shiv’a is a richly rewarding experience balancing the sacredness and prayerfulness of Kaddish-like rhythms with the questing brilliance of Eastern mysticism.

Mycale: Gomory – Book of Angels Volume 25

Ayelet Rose Gottlieb, Sofia Rei, Sara Serpa and Malika Zarra – together Mycale – inhabit this music with beatific and silken delicacy. Throughout the repertoire the poise and purity of their sustained highs and lows are priceless assets. The girls excel in intimacy with unsentimental tenderness (avoiding the trap of dragging) and spinning a web of awed eeriness. These songs are quintessential Zorn music and are sung by Mycale with rapt, wondering simplicity. Each of the star-vocalists sings with soft-focus beauty bringing a seamless lyricism and whispered intimacy to the beguiling music.
There has probably not been a more compelling and more beautiful a cappella ensemble than Mycale. With the diverse backgrounds ranging from Hebrew, Berber, Portuguese and Spanish the musical melange is utterly apt for the extraordinary vocal writing of John Zorn. This deeply intense work is treated with appropriate gravitas. The music is sublime and has a spirit that is like an attractive fantasy – melodically, harmonically and rhythmically charged. But make no mistake none of its beauty would be evident without Mycale. The ensemble parley with the familiarity of old friends and yet their voices retain the gracious etiquette of noble Jewish academies. Nothing is forced, exaggerated or overly mannered: tempos, ensemble and balance – all seem effortlessly and intuitively right. This music is truly a ‘transcendent’ sequel to their earlier John Zorn composition, Music of the Angels.