Just over a year ago, on one of last winter’s most bitterly cold nights, Huun-Huur-Tu made its Chicago debut. With the aid of ethnomusicoligist Ted Levin the strange folk ensemble from Tuva, a small region in southern Siberia just north of Mongolia from where they originally descended, offered a fascinating exposition of Khoomei (throat singing), a striking and downright haunting mutiphonic vocal style in which the practicioner sounds like he/she is simultaneously producing two or three different notes. The sheer exoticism of the phenomenon tended to obscure the gorgeous melodic swoops and turns in the revisionist traditionalism of Huun-Huur-Tu’s material. Levin’s pre-song explanations at the performance provided summaries of the elaborate storylines which are typically set within the songs, tales of nomadic herders somewhat akin to America’s early cowboy songs. This time around, however, Huun-Huur-Tu will be without Levin as musical tour guide and their recently released second album, the breathtaking The Orphan’s Lament (Shanachie), sounds less like an introduction to their music than a fully cogent, forward-looking statement. As vocalist Sayan Bapa explains in the new CD’s liner notes, “Timbre is the basis of everything in Tuvan music,” and there’s little doubt that Huun-Huur-Tu’s lush scape of colors and textures is one of its most appealing elements. Apart from the miraculous array of vocal sounds–high-pitched whistles to low, guttural groans imitating a staggering wealth of animal sounds–the group’s collection of native instruments from the igil, a two-stringed violin-like bowed instrument, to the khomuz, a jew’s harp played with unbelievable range, combine to form a sumptuous bouquet of sound. The new album features a heightened lyricism that places an undeniable accessibility within foreign turns of phrase and emotional expression .The more you know about the music, the more spellbinding it becomes, but by no means is ignorance of it any sort of impediment to genuine appreciation. Saturday, 8 PM, Ramsey Auditorium, Wilson Hall, Fermilab, Kirk and Pine, Batavia. 708-840-2787.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Alexander Shishkin.