Album Review | Cloud Valley | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 5/5
Since A is for Andrew Z is for Zither in 1972, multi-instrumentalist, writer and producer Andrew Cronshaw has been making unclassifiable music that lives in the sifting sandscapes between the genres that we create to try and describe music. For forty years Andrew produced a succession of exciting, atmospheric and always beautiful albums, blending Folk Music from across the world with magic. 2014 saw the release of Sans Live, the first release from Cronshaw, reeds player Ian Blake, Amenian Duduk player Tigran Aleksanyan and Finnish singer Sanna Kurki-Suonio. With the addition of Sanna’s daughter Erika Hammarberg as guest singer, Sans have recorded Kulku, their first studio album. “Pursi – The Rowing Song” begins with a stunning unaccompanied trio of vocals from Sanna, Erika and Ian. The melody is a beautifully recorded swirl of Finnish Kantele, Zither and Tigran’s evocative Duduk. The Duduk, if you are not familiar, looks like a recorder, but delivers a breathy vibrato sound that is sonic heaven. That kind of auditory trainspotting where you mentally classify and tag what you hear is often impossible with Sans. Zither, Kantele, Marovantele, Duduk or the multitude of Reed instruments that Ian Blake plays make identification at best tricky and often impossible with some kind of intrusive, Tubular Bells Vivian Stanshall master of ceremonies to announce the instruments. While the identity of individual instruments may be masked to all but Cronshaw anoraks, what is never in doubt is the hairs on the back of the neck troubling beauty of the sounds that inhabit every track on this extra ordinary album. “Tuudittele Tuuli – Cradle O Winds” pairs the savage beauty of the Bass Clarinet with its free jazz edge and Sanna’s rich vocal, Tigran’s Duduk joins in and we are on an emotional journey. Sans music is rich with the spirit of the Scandinavian landscape and that icy ECM Jazz Folk that Jan Garbarek has made his own. But there is an emotional edge, a warmth and an intensity that is unique to Sans. The melodies played by the Bass Clarinet of the Duduk can be listened to on their own and they individually hold your interest, like the other worldly music of Stephan Micus. Sanna Kurki-Suonio’s vocal on the traditional Finnish lyrics is a feast on its own. “Rauta – Iron” and “The Recollection of That Day” – “O Chiadain An Lo/Lusabatz Ararati Vra” have the bubbling synth like pulse of the Zither that is pure Cronshaw at his most beautiful evoking flashes of sunlight or movement that are pure poetry. “The Edge of Autumn/Hayre niki Karot” is a Cronshaw, Blake Aleksanyan composition and is a stripped back trio performance for “Marovantele”, the two sided double strung stereo electric Kantele invented by Cronshaw, Bake’s Reeds and the Duduk. The notes hang in the air with the Marocantele rippling in each speaker and the Clarinet and Duduks long notes lingering like mist. This is a track, like so many on this stunning album that I found myself endlessly repeating. “Kulkija – The Walking Song” shakes you out of your reverent fog as Sanna and Erika’s vocals, Jim Sutherland’s percussion and Sans’ instruments deliver an infectious skanking rhythm that bobs and swings in an infectious way. Completely at odds with the previous track, but a very much just a different kind of beautiful. “Astele Oro – Step Carefully Stallion” layers Erika’s vocals against those of Ian Blake and Sana to create a sonic wonder as arresting as the Trio Bulgarka vocals on Kate Bush’s Sensual World. Time and time again Kulka offers music that is utterly captivating. “Kazvatti – Four Sorrows” has string guitar like notes hanging in the air, with the achingly beautiful voice of Erika Hammarberg wrapped around by the Bass vocal of Ian Blake, creating an atmosphere that is pure Dead Can Dance or Koyaanisqatsi. Another perfectly formed shimmering gem of utter joy. “Kaik Mia Ilot Unohin – I Forgot All Joy”, “Stopped Singing the Songs”. The title alone is an evocative poem and the opening of resonant Duduk and Zither notes that fill the ears do not disappoint. Ian Blake’s winding Soprano Sax melody and Sanna’s vocal on the traditional Finnish lyrics are a late highlight on this consistently stunning album.