Pneuma is an ancient Greek word for «air in motion», «breath», «spirit» or «soul». All these interpretations capture the essence of the the new quartet by the same name, featuring Montreal-based, Israeli expat vocalist Ayelet Rose Gottlieb with three unique clarinetists – Canadian, experimental Francois Houle and American, free jazz player James Falzone and Klezmer musician Michael Winograd. The breathy, soulful voices of the clarinets do embrace the spirited, vocals of Gottlieb, who often uses her own voice as another wind instrument. Pneuma’s cycle of poems and songs, composed and arranged by the four musicians, offers the wind as a metaphor for an empty space. It attempts to reflect the turbulent feelings of sensing loss, thinking about last and lost breaths and passing moments and images, but it is also life affirming cycle and enjoys the beauty that survives.
The poetic texts and songs are performed by Pneuma as meditative chorales with shifting perspectives, moving from the very personal to the global and from intimacy to a loud roar. Pneuma’s unique instrumentation charges this contemplative and lyrical atmosphere with rich and layered tapestry of sounds and tones, some stressed with extended techniques and subtle electronics, borrowing ideas an elements from Jewish, klezmer music, contemporary music, jazz and free improvisations.
The cycle begins with an hymn-like arrangement of a text of Irish James Joyce, «Alone». It continues with a section of songs with titles drawn from British poet Christina Rossetti’s famous poem «Who Has Seen the Wind?». This section begins with the wordless and restless, improvised «Neither I Nor You/Pneuma» and moves to «Trembling/Light», a touching homage of Gottlieb and Houle to their late friend, Ken Pickering, the long-time artistic director of the Vancouver Jazz Festival, based on a poem by Richard Jeffrey Newman that Gottlieb describes as «a turbulence of emotions entangled in love». This vein deepens with the instrumental, breathy klezmer-ish «Passing Through/Lament for Harry», is dedicated to Gottlieb’s grandfather, Harry, who was a clarinet player, and the fragile, chamber «Neither you Nor I/Conversation with Ora», inspired by a double bass solo by the late Israeli musician Ora Boasson-Horev who was a close friend of Gottlieb. The expressionist, wordless «Bow Down/The Wind Will Takes Us» was inspired by the a poem by Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhzad and mirrors the sensation of «being buffeted by winds to the point of losing ourselves». This section ends with angelic performances of *«Passing By/The Shape of Tears», inspired by the photographs of Japanese artist Mayumi Terada and Rosetti’s poem «Who Has Seen the Wind?»
The following section presents four concise, minimalist yet playful songs that use suggestive texts by medieval Japanese women poets, set to music by Falzone who is interested in Asian poetry traditions and the concept of «saying as much as possible with the most refined (and smallest) amount of words». One of these songs, «Ruined House» by Japanese waka poet from the 9th century, Ono no Komachi, observes the he beauty that survives the wind’s destruction.
The last song of this most beautiful cycle by the always surprising Pneuma is a waltz-like, lyrical arrangement of Tom Waits’ «The Last Rose of Summer» (originally from «The Black Rider» soundtrack, Island, 1993), arranged by Houle: «I love the way / The tattered clouds / Go wind across the sky // And summer goes / And leave me / With a tear in my eye».
Don’t miss this fantastic, poetic album.
Ayelet Rose Gottlieb (v), James Falzone (cl, shruti box), François Houle (cl, elec), Michael Winograd (cl)