Ross Daly & Labyrinth, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Monday, 12 October 2009 19:25

by Chris Williams

The group opened the proceedings with an original arrangement of an Azerbaijan folk song led by Daly on the rabab. This lute, which is rather like the Indian sarod, has a deep, melancholy voice exactly suited to the yearning mode of this song. The orchestration, including Rufus Cappadocia on five -sting cello, Ruth Hill on bendir (a large frame drum similar to the bodhran) and the extraordinary Keyvan Chemirani on the Iranian zarb drum, produced a full sound that was well -suited to the large and oddly-shaped Q.E.H.. Next was Pervane, an Irish folk tune in a Middle Eastern arrangement which illustrates why Daly's music appeals-it emerges from the circumstances of its time and place and if it works, it survives, it is not the product of cerebral idea that is doomed to endless repetition.
Daly has certainly gathered some interesting young musicians around him. For a number of these - the string players - he is a teacher, for other he merely provides the focal point for their musical endeavors. This preset incarnation of Labyrinth includes Socrates Sinopoulos on the classical kemence (a rebec-like fiddle known as politiki lyra in Greek ) who, apart from coaxing a generous, warm melodic tone from the instrument, contributed some excellent improvisation in his solo turns. There is also Stelios Petrakis, who played mainly on various members of the Turkish saz family of long-necked lutes, and Giorgos Symeonides on the ney, a flute usually associated with the music of the dervish brotherhoods.
All of the musicians were able to demonstrate their abilities in an amalgam of two Daly compositions, "Laouto" and "locasti's Dream". In the first section Daly explored the potential of the laouto, an instrument rather like the ud but with a longer neck. Sinopoulos took the main melody of "locasti's Dream" on the kemence, and most surprising, and greatly appreciated, was a question-and-answer improvisation between Cappadocia's cello and Chemirani's zarb drum. This young drummer produced from this single drum a repertoire of sound that would have put a full kit to shame and also revealed a great sense of timing and imagination.
The bulk of the second half was structured around the musical traditions of Crete and featured the clear and robust vocals of Vasilis Stavrakakis, who comes from an established family of Cretan musicians. The first part of this Cretan set consisted of arrangements of mainly traditional melodies carried by Stavrakakis melting into an extended section based largely on Daly's Pendozalis, an original composition which takes its name and structure from the Cretan dance which inspired it. For this, Daly switched from laouto to Cretan lyra, another rebec-like fiddle and proceeded to give a performance that must surly become legendary.
Many of Daly's own compositions follow a tradition found in Indian and certain Turkish and Cretan music of a restrained, disciplined progress towards a crescendo. I have never heard this effect more than on this interpretation of Pendozalis. The piece works incrementally, moving forward in steady steps and frequently taking one back, thereby heightening the sense of tension and expectation. The end is a glorious, furious finale that makes great demands on the musicianship and self-discipline of the performers in general and lyra player in particular.
There was no way the musicians were getting away without playing an encore, another Daly original, a fast dance in the musical traditions of the Black Sea. It is testimony to the musicians' skill that this tricky piece in an asymmetric rhythm was born note -perfect and, more importantly, thrilling, despite the fact that they had last performed it a year ago and then in different key.
At the start, with the seven-piece orchestra sitting in a semi-circle clutching the unfamiliar instruments, few in the audience knew quite what to expect. Three hours later Daly expressed everyone's hopes when, regretting that time had run out, he promised to be back.
Chris Williams

Folk roots,
London

 

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