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På skive


«The Book of Transfigurations»

Dálava offers a musical seance into a magical world that is almost gone. The title of this cross-boundaries – literally – project is inspired by a Czech word that doesn’t have an exact English equivalent. Dálava refers to the disappearing line on the horizon where land and sky hazily merge into one another.

Dálava features the the American, Vancouver-based partners in life and music – vocalist-actress Julia Úlehla and guitar wizard Aram Bajakian, known as the guitarist of Lou Reed in his last tours and a close associate of John Zorn. On their second album, «The Book of Transfigurations», they actually transfigured Moravian-Czech folk songs of the 19th and early 20th century in fresh and bold 21st century modern jazz and art-rock dresses. These songs were collected from the home of Úlehla’s great grandfather, Vladimír Úlehla (1888-1947), a botanist and ethnomusicologist who viewed these folk songs as living organisms. These songs do tell a story about distinct transfigurations – girl into married woman, boy into soldier, girl into mother, mother into widow, vibrantly strong soldier into wounded corpse, and man into murderer.

The immediate, emotional impact impact of this project owes much to the Vancouver-based musicians that accompany Úlehla and Bajakian. Úlehla herself delivers these songs with an emotional innocence and touching tenderness, as if she is possessed by the ancient, fairy tales and elliptical parables and reliving them anew; Bajakian adds an irreverent, mischievous spirit with his intense-ecstatic guitar parts; cellist Peggy Lee deppens the delicate, emotional core of these songs; keyboards player Tyson Naylor colors these songs with surprising, playful ideas; and bass player Colin Cowan and drummer Dylan van der Schyff anchor these songs in driving grooves that often convince you to rise up and begin to dance.

The songs themselves, sang in Czech (all translated into English in the informative booklet), are simply beautiful and totally engaging. These songs will linger in your memory long after listening to this album, as if are integral part of your own cultural legacy. These songs are full of clever musical games. Bajakian, for example, injects a surprising reggaeton beat to «Dyž sem já šel pres hory» (The rocks began to crumble), turning this serious song that touches issues of admission and infidelity to an urgent, wild burst of emotions. The heartbreaking love song «Co ste si mamičko za dům stavjat dali» (Iron bars, iron lock) is arranged as a chamber jazz song with only Lee and Naylor on the accordion accompany Úlehla. The tender, intimate connection of Úlehla and Bajakian is cemented on their heart-aching, fragile «Na strážnickém rynku» (War), obviously, lamenting the sorrows of war, delivered with powerful yet reserved elegance. The ballad «Vydala máti» (Mother gave away her daughter) sounds an early Czech version of the Beatles’ «She’s Leaving Home».

Úlehla and Bajakian already created a minor sensation in the Czech Republic with their performances of these songs. About time that the rest of the world would enjoy Dálava.

Eyal Hareuveni

Julia Úlehla (v), Aram Bajakian (g, dr, perc), Peggy Lee (c), Tyson Naylor (p, acc, Farfisa org, Hammond A-100, Wurlitzer, Rhodes), Colin Cowan (b), Dylan van der Schyff (dr, perc)

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