Album was released by two of Russia’s leading lights in the world of folk music. In particular these are Sergei Starostin and Andrei Kotov, together with Vladimir Volkov (double bass/viola), and Leonid Fedorov, lead singer of rock staples Auktsyon.
The CD is a collection of spiritual or “edifying” songs, some of which are based upon bona fide medieval texts, whereas others are stylizations. The project has been extraordinarily well-received by the Russian press, who praise its “virtually monastic degree of modesty,” together with a successful avoidance of both “archaisms and kitsch.”
Andrei Kotov is leader and manager of the folk ensemble Sirin. Inspired by the idea of somehow modernizing the choir’s repertoire, he began seeking support for a show that would “bring together tendencies not only from Russian folk performance, but spiritual, and modern acoustic genres, too.”
Jazz/folk vocalist and ethnographer Sergei Starostin was soon on board, together with Fedorov, if for no other reason than the threesome have been experimenting together since 2002.
They decided to base the project on carefully selected traditional refrains, together with songs from both monastic and nomadic canons. The common ground between them all soon manifested itself as “Life, Death, and Eternal Life.”
The press release frames the CD as follows: “The performers of ‘Edifying Songs for Every Day’ have combined both a national heritage and contemporary talent. Together they slowly and respectfully touch upon those eternal questions that - sooner or later - stand before each of us. This is music for our ears, mind, and soul. It’s about the past, the present, and the future. It’s about timeless matters.”
To the folk texts already mentioned, we can add 16th-century spiritual verses and variations upon the Psalms of King David. This is a remarkable recording that left one Moscow journalist declaring it a “genuine masterpiece” - and hoping some of the tracks would be adopted by the nation and sung around family dining tables!
One of the most remarkable reactions has been the tendency - in several publications - of referring less to time-honored folk tradition than to the collaborative output of Coil. The desire of Kotov, Starostin, Volkov, and Fedorov to drag these recordings away from dusty archives, through jazz, and out into borderline psychedelia leaves the press finding more useful contexts in electronic drone!
“These are spherical songs,” says one journalist, “rounded melodies that form a circle of life, death, and resurrection. An almost pagan interpretation of a Psalm will link to an Okudzhava waltz; spiritual songs will overlap with a form of Indian ragga.”
“It’s very hard not to note the structural similarities with Eastern music as a whole. This recording is more than willing to draw itself out, endlessly and effortlessly. It is constantly changing, yet never moves from the spot.”
“These ‘Edifying Songs’ exist in a form of spiritual simplicity. Each word and sound does no more than designate itself: an oak is a tree; Russia is our homeland; death is inevitable. This is almost not music, but a pure and naked element, lying somewhere in the depths of time immemorial. Four grown men raise it to the surface.”
At this point the enthusiasm is both a little extreme and bordering on the edge of awkwardness. As a result, rather than spin off into metaphors of the motherland, it’s better to bring things back to the opening reference regarding monastic simplicity.
Starostin’s reputation as ethnographer, as collector of living folk traditions, has kept this CD far from the dangers mentioned above: archival tedium and/or tastelessness. This is a smart, challenging, and deeply moving album.
01. Zavedu Ya Kompanyu
02. A V Lugakh
03. O Cheloveche
04. Kogda Uydu
05. Stikh O Smerti
07. Psalom #1
10. Greshnyi Cheloveche
11. Kuda Letish Kukushechka