Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Efren Lopez - El Fill Del Llop

Efren Lopez
El Fill Del Llop, Buda Musique

"The Son of Wolf" opens with the thunderous bass and lightning crack of a Turkish davul (bass drum).  No opening could be more fitting for an album titled such.  For the record, no fewer than 26 instruments are played by Lopez himself, and the album proves that his entourage of musicians are both sensitive and skilled in their craft as well.  "El Fill Del Llop" is hands-down one of the best recent catalogs of human sentience through instrumentation -- instruments which include those from medieval times, Turkish, Persian, Greek, and Arabian cultures, among others.

To develop a strong affinity for the slower-tempo Turkish-style compositions might take some time, but once you're there, nothing in the world is like it.  In this opening track, Kurtoğlu Zeybeği, the chording between instruments is sinister, and gives strong impressions of a heavy metal tune without the distortion.  There are many things to love about this composition, but one aspect which stands out is that the tempo and pace of the melody is just perfect: at times, as soon as the volume of a chord decays to almost nothing, the void is filled again with resounding bass and shimmering steel-stringed tones.  At other times, long trills crescendo to ensnare the listener in the melodic line's story.

Ironically, one of the brightest gems on the album, Lo Boièr, has the least flashy instrumentalism.  Its strength is in the arrangement -- in its growing width and depth of harmonic sophistication.  A medieval tune about the plight of the Cathars during France's Albigensian Crusade, a repetitious chorus of "A, E, I, O, U" is inserted in every verse.  This chorus of vowels resolves utilizing polyphonic texturing: parallel or opposing or otherwise entwined harmonies -- differently and progressively developing in each section of the tune.  The depth of the composition brings to mind both masterful pieces in the classical orchestral genre, and polyphonic folk-singing traditions such as that which Georgia, Corsica, or the Balkans are known for.

The final track, Abracadabra, is ripe with the Amazigh energy of northern Morocco in both the rhythms used and the frame drums with snares.  Efren's playing of the oud stands as the basis for all of the melody instruments -- which is not all that different sounding from the traditional Moroccan usage of the lotar.

The mark of many great artists is being able to use their skills creatively in various contexts -- but most importantly, to know when this amalgamation works and when it doesn't.  Despite the diverse nature of the tunes, there are no musical blends on El Fill Del Llop that don't work.  Lopez's implementation of Turkish instrumentation in a flamenco vocal context works well, as there is some crossover in the techniques employed by both cultures: the presence of a strong back-beat, and the golpe technique of tapping the soundboard of the instrument while playing, for example.  In addition to the instrument swap on Como al Pie del Suplicio Estuve, Raùl Micò's vocals are sublime, and culminate into a vaporous duende chorus toward the end of the track.

In the midst of an album of great ideas and blends, Asbi Sangi presents itself as a tune very much in the nature of monophonic Kurdish or Persian folk music.  What makes these tunes really enjoyable is in how the instruments are playing the same melody, but in their own style -- with a slightly different character, given each instrument's individual nature and capabilities.  In this tradition, one essence has many voices:

Aralik (Ferahfezâ) starts with a wonderful taksim (solo) on a tanbur -- one of the lesser-known Turkish instruments to the west.  It's obscurity might have something to do with the ergonomics of playing the instrument.  Google it:  it's like a bowed, microtonally-fretted flagpole... with a resonator at the bottom.  I'm no doctor, but it looks like a high-risk scenario for carpal-tunnel syndrome.  However, when it creates the sound that it does... then the risks are worth the rewards.  The intro is followed by the melody on qanun, ney, yaylı tanbur, bass yaylı tanbur, and oud.  It was smart to not include any rhythmic accompaniment in the tune, since having some kind of static sonic placeholder would've been a distraction.  Probably one of the hardest tunes for a novice of the world's musics to appreciate, the melody of Aralik is like a story.  Drifting freely through the psyche, the instruments' dynamics and modes used sonically paint memories -- fleeting shadows of various states and feelings: sorrow and vulnerability, definition and wisdom, ominousness or bitterness.  To a careful listener, all of these are embodied in various little moments of the composition:

The other good thing (which can't be understated) is that Efren knows how to make a good album, by hosting a range of diverse but connected energies.  There is a great mix of feeling on this record, from the vehemence in the explosive drums and intense dynamics of the first track, to the ethereal meditative ambience of Lo Boièr, and the 4 heaping cups of joy (with a pinch of melancholy) in Azinhaga:

Although it sounds like recorders create the harmonies behind the Turkish ney in Plaerdemavida, some live performances show the melody also played on the tanbur and and Indian dilruba, creating a bit of a different but equally beautiful feel with the meend-style slurring in the background.  Either way works wonderfully, and the recording's wind-instrument version with Efren's fretless guitar creates a dream-like atmosphere:

Lord knows a lot of work went into this album. The production quality is impeccable, and the instrumentation is the best of its kind.  Taking a look at the instrumentalists hands as they strum, chord, finger-roll, or otherwise play their instruments, it's easy to see the fine-tuned mechanics of seasoned players.  From a compositional standpoint, it's as equally easy to hear the years that Efren has put into his study of music from not only different places geographically, but also from different time periods.  The trouble with making an album of such a diverse, intense, and (perhaps) esoteric musicality is... how much of an audience is there to receive and appreciate all of it?

But that's beside the point.  No real artists I've ever met have done their art for the sake of appeasing the tastes of the masses.  El Fill Del Llop will be a goldmine for anyone with wise ears who finds it, and a bridge to the individual traditions which it derives some of its nature from.
-Seth Premo

El Fill Del Llop personnel:

For more information on Efren's related projects, see:
Evo, Medieval Music - on iTunes here
Mavra Froudia, Mediterranean Music - on iTunes here
L'ham de Foc, Mediterranean Music - on iTunes here

More detailed information can be found at Efren's official site: