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Esmerine - Dalmak

Constellation - 2013

Michael Panontin
Dalmak, the second album on Constellation for Montreal's Esmerine and their fourth overall, is somewhat of a departure for the band...literally, that is. 2011's La Lechuza was a sombre elegy for the late singer/songwriter Lhasa de Sela, who met an early judgement after an unfortunate bout with cancer. For Dalmak, the Montreal chamber quartet co-founded by cellist Rebecca Foon and now-former Godspeed drummer Bruce Cawdron took up an extended residence in Istanbul following a surprisingly enthusiastic reception there. Once ensconced in the Turkish metropolis, the band immersed themselves in the city's rich musical milieu - hence the album's title, which can be roughly translated as "to meditate" or even "to plunge", for example into foreign culture.

Montreal, of course, has always been a city more open to foreign influence than much of the Anglo-Saxon world. Ms. de Sela's chart-topping La Llorona, Land of Kush's sprawling Against the Day and the decidedly old-world charm of Black Ox Orkestar's excellent Nisht Azoy are just a few contemporary examples of this. For Dalmak, the band laid down some initial tracks with a quartet of Turkish musicians - who played a coterie of instruments from the relatively well-known baglama to the more exotic darbuka, a sort of elaborately decorated goblet drum - before returning to Montreal's Breakglass studios to finish things up with their trademark cello, violin and marimba.

The result is a sort of microcosm of the old Bosporus city herself, a curious and occasionally chaotic mish-mash of eastern exoticism and western familiarity. The two-part 'Translator's Clos' marries some traditional middle-eastern percussion with wistful strings and trumpet, while the aptly-named 'Barn Board Fire' is exactly what it sounds like, a blistering flash of drums, violin, woodwind and electric guitar. Still, for all that exoticism, the finest moments on Dalmak come on the splendid 'Hayale Dalmak', a four-minute organ dirge that recalls Terry Riley and his regrettably overlooked Persian Surgery Dervishes set. Very nice indeed.



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