If ever there were a seamless collaboration between a recording artist and a producer, this one is it. Greek vocalist Savina Yannatou and her band Primavera en Salonico make their ECM studio debut with Sumiglia, produced by label head Manfred Eicher. Eicher signed Yannatou in 2002 and issued the live Terra Nostra in early 2003. That recording garnered international attention because of the musical adventurousness of the singer and her live band who can reach dizzying improvisational heights whether they are playing folk songs from Greek, Corsican or Sephardic traditions or new pieces informed by Arab and Armenian cultures and modalities. Nothing, however, could have prepared listeners for this offering. Eicher's understanding of Yannatou's linguistic (she sings in over 12 different languages here) and tonal gifts, and her band's seemingly limitless abilities to not only encounter many traditions but highlight their similarities as well as differences, is deeply intuitive. Sumiglia offers no window dressing, only pristine, natural sound infused with the adventure of intimate live performance where musicians encounter one another and prod each other to delve deeper into the nature of song itself. Yannatou is a singer for whom the human voice is an instrument first that communicates not lyric and style so much as emotion and history. She erases cultural boundaries while honoring cultures. She sings as if time was no longer a factor in the communication of a song from antiquity, and she is inseparable from her protagonists. This is true whether that character is a young Ukrainian woman in love, a grief-stricken Sicilian woman who laments the Earth's cruelty, the lover in a Greek or Palestinian wedding song, or the haunted lovesick poet in a Spanish Gallican ballad, just to name a few. Primavera en Salonico don't just support Yannatou, they enter into dialogue with her in both verse and chorus and fill the spaces with risk, excitement and a deep-listening empathy, using accordions, ouds, guitars, violins, nay, tamboura, double bass, percussion, quanun and kalimbas. Eicher offers balance, capturing this crackling yet utterly human excitement as it happens, holding the space for each song to intuitively wrap itself around the performers and reach its full expression. Sumiglia is one of the most daring and poetically inspiring recordings to come down the pipe in decades and sets a new standard for exploration as well as interpretation and execution in world music. It is breathtaking in its freshness, bold in its vision and utterly sensual in its utterance.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek