(All Album Reviews by BrianG)
Amarok is a Spanish band totally at home in both the worlds of the modern progressive and the traditional folk music of Catalonia and Andalusia (the parts of Spain under the influence of the Moors during Medieval times). Amarok’s exquisite playing matches the best efforts of fellow Spaniards Carmen and Iceberg, with the modern sensibilities of Kotebel, Azigza, and the famous world music ensemble Radio Tarifa.
Sol De Medianoche is Amarok’s seventh full release and shows their maturity and full control over the ethnic, symphonic and jazzy elements woven into every track. Songs are well constructed and stitched together with uniting passages. Although the album starts out with an acoustic “Sephiroth” which could be played on any world music show, the electronic instruments such as organ, moog, drum set and electric bass soon take over, moving away from the strictly Spanish feel to a modern, world view.
Composition is credited to Robert Santamaria, but it is obvious that there was plenty of give and take throughout the recording sessions. Each song includes generous interplay between the melodic flute and violin with supportive keyboards. Arrangements are the strong point. Deciding between an acoustic guitar behind a flute, a piano/trumpet duet, or the myriad of acoustic instruments at his disposal, Santamaria makes the right choice every time. For the first time, some of the tracks are in English, with the rest in native Spanish.
On top of all this wonderful instrumentation moves the fabulous vocals of Marta Segura. Her voice shapeshifts between minor key melodies and soaring dominant major symphonics. She has an incredible range, perfect control and her voice reigns over every passage. One minute she evokes the squeals and whispers of a mother and child, the next minute she flies into an operatic high register. Comparable vocalists in progressive music today include Roselyne Berthet of Nil and Christina Booth of Magenta, neither of whom have the power and versatility of Segura, which is no disparagement to either of them.
Andalusian music is a mélange of many cultures – Spanish flamenco, Moroccan Gnawa, Gallic folk, and rhythms from all over the Mediterranean basin. In tracks like “Hermits”, Amarok plays free range with culture bending Andalusian rhythms with traces of Balkan choirs and Celtic fiddle tunes. The mini epic “Ishak the Fisherman” is a particular joy. The continued interplay of all the exotic instruments with the modern counterparts is flavorful and supremely satisfying. Short triptychs such as “Xiöngmao” and “Mama Todorka” give a respite from the concentrated playing of the longer songs. “Mama Tadorka” includes more of Segura’s multi-tracked voice in a Balkan choir arrangement. Lastly, a cover of ELP’s “Abaddon’s Bolero seems like the band having fun after hours, but falls flat compared to the rest of the album.
I give my highest recommendation of this album to anyone who enjoys folk instrumentation with symphonic progressive. Amarok is in my opinion one of the best bands today. And I understand their live show is not to be missed.