Mara!
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Mara!

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | SELF

Sydney, New South Wales, Australia | SELF
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Once every year or two a reviewer is lucky enough to receive a disc as good a Tra Parole e Silenzio. Then comes the hard part: finding a way to make the review as positive as the listening experience.

I could begin by saying that I first heard Mara! at a Tasmanian folk festival 30 years ago, that I was enormously impressed at the time, and that the group has been getting even better ever since. I could begin by saying that this is a quintessentially Australian project, with a Balkan folk choir singing new settings of Italian poetry backed by a team of outstanding instrumentalists from jazz and world-music backgrounds. I will begin by admitting that I enjoyed it so much that I was still listening to it, rather than writing about it, when last issue’s deadline passed by. I do apologise, to Mara!, to my editor and to MF readers.
The song cycle sets nine poems by Italian lawyer and poet Eduardo Di Giovanni, little celebrations of daily life and reflections on life’s mysteries, and complements them with three instrumental interludes for a total of 53 minutes playing time.
Andrew Robson, Mara Kiek and Llew Kiek wrote three numbers apiece, with one from Paul Cutlan and two from Steve Elphick rounding out the dozen.
The solo musicians are these five people, naturally, plus Sandy Evans on saxes, Naomi Vaughan on cajon (box drum) and Silvia Entcheva, solo voice.

Martenitsa Choir for those who don’t know it, was founded in Sydney by Mara Kiek in 1989 and works in the tradition of the Bulgarian choirs which inspired her. Evans, Robson and Cutlan (reeds) and Elphick (bass) are of course identified with jazz, while the Kieks are associated with Eastern European folk music. If we can have ‘fusion’ cuisine, can we have ‘fusion’ music? It might be a better label for Tra Parole than ‘world’.
The first track demonstrates the possibilities: a sax riff introduces the choir, which gives way to a sax solo that would bring a jazz crowd to its feet and cools down just enough to let the choir’s return lift, not let down, the end of the song. Will it bother anyone that the rhythm section behind the solo has bouzouki and tapan rather than guitar and drum kit? Not at all.
In Partii Ch’era il Giorno di Natale clarinet and saxes echo the choir’s harmonies in a magical little interlude before the linked instrumental that brings on blindingly fast, tight section playing in a typically complex Eastern European metre.
Every track is different but they make a very satisfying whole. The pervasive mood is a bittersweet reflectiveness but the overall effect is joyfully life-affirming – and no, I don’t know how Mara and her team managed that, although I am happy because they did. (Yes, I’m still listening to it.)

Malcolm Tattersall

- Review: Music Forum AustraliaVol 19, NO 1, Summer 2012


“The Sydney Morning Herald once referred to Mara! as “the Dom Perignon of (Australia’s) World Music Bands”, it was perhaps a touch premature, but this collaboration between the group and their Bulgarian-style choir certainly meets that appellation, although on the face of it this is an unlikely project with the band applying their own Balkan and jazz-influenced setting to poems by the late Italian civil rights lawyer Eduardo di Giovanni. Italian influences within the music itself may be harder to discern, but are foremost on E quello che resta e Silenzio (And what remains is silence), fleeting hints of sacred music and the Mediterranean melancholia of Sorella (Sister) which features the singing of Mara Kiek.
It matters little that the words are Italian but delivered with a distinctly Bulgarian sonority as the album is well-produced and works perfectly as the sum of its parts. Balkan influences abound of course, not just in the singing and percussion but also in the occasional burst of bouzouki, oud or Paul Cutlan’s clarinets. And songs like the outstanding Pastorale switch effortlessly back and forth between the a cappella Bulgarian choir and jazzy instrumental breaks. Although with musicians like saxophonist Sandy Evans and bassist Steve Elphick still in the frame and Silvia Entcheva, formerly of Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares, as the choir’s featured singer such dexterity is perhaps a given. Ambitious as it may be, this project is an unqualified success with its feeling of fresh adventure, sumptuous singing and depth of musical experience. A European tour in the near future is planned”.
Phil Wilson.

Review : Mara! & Martentisa Choir CD Tra Parole e Silenzio Mara! Music MM003
FRoots Nov/Dec 2012 Issue Nos 353/354 P71

- FRoots Nov/Dec 2012 Issue Nos 353/354 P71


On that note..it brings me to the reason I found my way to your blog… MARA & MARTENITSA CHOIR in Concert Last night at LIVE.
It is with sincerity that I take this opportunity to gush.I was captivated and inspired by THE most beautiful array of harmonies i have ever heard live in concert. The range of the voices , combined with the impeccable timing and diffucult arrangements blew me away. The layers of sound fit together perfectly…like it is just one entity with no sepparate parts…created by the band Mara, consisting of all players who are the example of musical cream individually and yet conveying so much respect to the whole. My heart is warm and I am so glad i have a CD to transport me back to the LIVE experience. I have found that the Sound at LIVE is one of the best quuality experiences I have anywhere in the mountains.
Congratulations and Thankyou.
Meg Benson Music Hunter
- Live at the Village Concert Review


Music can be powerfully cathartic, which is why most cultures boast a cousin of the blues. The Eastern Europeans do melancholy, loss and tragedy - along with all the shades of blue in between - as well as we do triumphalism. Luckily they also know how to kick up their heels, so this Mara! concert - as ever, centred around the music of Bulgaria - was an equally profound and giddy cycle of catharsis and celebration.
It was a treat and a privilege to hear this band in such intimate confines. If what ensued was seldom Mara! at its most energetic, it was often at its most poignant. Steve Elphick's bass solo on Na Dolu ached with the first bitter taste of that melancholy, a mood sustained on Andrew Robson's Glastonbury Lullaby, the bass, now bowed, sumptuously rich, while the composer's soprano saxophone impregnated a mist of sadness with flashes of abandon, then spiralled through the happier strains of Zhetva (Harvest) in tandem with Llew Kiek's bouzouki.
Against the spartan backing of Kiek's guitar and Paul Cutlan's bass clarinet, Mara Kiek brought the Greek tragedy Dance of Zalongou to agonising life, her voice like brittle glass as the tale unfolded of women choosing to kill first their children, then themselves, to escape slavery. She sang her soul out on the equally moving Bulgarian lament Troitsa Bratya, supported by the crying arco bass of Elphick, before The Big Dance eased the pain away, Cutlan's soprano scooting over the boisterous rhythm.
Cutlan's bass clarinet showed off its kaleidoscope of tonal colours on Por Ali Paso Un Cavallero, with its lugubrious bottom, sleek, dark middle and sprightly top. Above that was a register of heartbreak, and when he slid back down the horn it was not so much a release as an affirmation of the intensity.
Kiek stabbed his trademark staccato interjections into the solo guitar accompaniment of Mara's delicate delivery of The Green Singer, a setting of a Shaw Neilson poem. That voice became imploring for another wonderful new song, Sorella, featuring plaintive and inventive guitar from Kiek. He switched to the ringing baglama for the filigree introduction to Ey Shahin, the tenor and alto then braying like mating donkeys. Wonderful.
John Shand
- Sydney Morning Herald Review 2003


We can only imagine what Mara! has for breakfast each day. Sorella is fresh, arresting, joyous, accessible. The album features 7 original and 5 traditional pieces. It opens with Curl Curl by Andrew Robson (sax), a big rousing dedication to former Mara! members Sandy Evans and Tony Gorman. It’s a fitting beginning – the musicians obviously have enormous respect for each other and it shows on Green Singer, one of the delicate quiet moments of the CD. The music is totally emotional, an exceptionally crafted album with a unique blend of passion and graceful lyricism.
Jaslyn Hall - ABC Radio magazine Limelight


GEEL: It is maybe rather amazing that Australian musicians occupy themselves with European music. The group Mara! does this nonetheless with verve. In GEEL they started a small tour which took them to seven cultural centres.
Mara! (with exclamation mark) has two enormous trumps which they proved in Culture Centre De Werft.
First there is the beautiful and powerful force of singer Mara Kiek. Supple, but also strong of tone, often with an penetrating sharp timbre, modulated to the songstyle which is so typical of the Central European traditional music.
The other trump is the composition of this "folkgroup": two saxophonists notably colour the arrangements and add regularly strong improvisations.
The group extensively used the music from their second last CD Ruino Vino at the concert.
Their latest album, called Sezoni they recorded together with a 25 voice choir. It will be available in Europe in Summer under the RealWorld label.
The mixing of folk and jazz might on paper look rather unusual, but these Australians in the execution of it, turn it into something as a matter of course. I don't know of any other example where both genres go together so well. Admittedly Mara! already maintains this formula unchanged for ten years, but it remains a daring approach which musically works very cleverly.
The musicians get their material out of the whole of Europe. We heard at the concert Sephardic , Bulgarian, Macedonian, Albanian, Turkish, Greek and Hungarian songs and dances.
Australia, a smelting pot of numerous European immigrants was their starting point for exploring so many diverse national traditions. "Authenticity" in all areas they can't guarantee of course, and that is the reason why that jazz approach works so well.
The different styles are being treated as the basis material with which these jazzmusicians do their own thing. The vocals try to be as authentic as possible, the saxophonists try just the opposite.
For sure, the fast pieces in their dizzying improvisations make us very exited
Put these people in the large tent of Dranouter and they'll stun everybody. (Literally translated it says: "and they play everything and everybody flat against the ground").
On the podium bouzouki player/guitarist Llew Kiek shows himself to be the central figure of the group. Together with bass player Steve Elphick he offered a strong backbone against which song and saxophonists could brilliantly shine.
In Geel the saxophonists Andrew Robson and Paul Cutlan lifted the Greek Aidinikos and a Turkish piece up to impressive heights. Their slow pieces also were attractive.
The Slotoffensief "the final deciding battle" from the beautiful Greek pleading prayer at the sea (Thalassa) to their trusted classic, The Big Dance was just brilliant. Mara! plays energetically and purposefully, in original arrangements in which all elements faultlessly fall into their place. Their fusion of folk and jazz coupled with the virtuoso musical spectacle that they offer, is a wonderful experience.



- De Standaard Belgium


Mara and Llew Kiek have been mainstays of Australian world music for many years and a new CD by them is always eagerly anticipated. They have collaborated with many of Australia’s finest musicians and the Mara! band for these sessions includes Paul Cutlan and Andrew Robson on reeds and Steve Elphick on double bass.
Mara’s exquisite voice and Llew’s array of string instruments create the central sonic focus of the Mara! band but here as usual the band members are far more than accompanists. They compose some of the tracks and are clearly part of the collaborative sound that characterises Mara’s inclusive style.
While the Mara! band draws inspiration from a great many musical cultures the central focus of their style is in and around the Balkans. But of course over time a style all their own has emerged and on this CD there are elements which are more like Australian folk and there’s always a touch of jazz. A quirky and often humorous sense of fun is juxtaposed with some very poignant emotional moods. Personally I’m glad to be spared the Balkan bagpipes in favour of great sax and clarinet playing in this ensemble.
This delightful CD starts with the ebullient “Curl Curl Curl” which composer Andrew Robson very kindly lets us know is in 11/16 time. I’m thankful for this information because otherwise I’d be distracted from the joyous interplay between his saxophone and Paul (Cutlan’s) clarinet trying to figure out why I can’t dance to this music in the way that Bulgarian men certainly can. And yet there is nothing jerky about this instrumental. It swings and makes these complex time signatures both fascinating and accessible. This track is a forerunner of several such extravagant instrumentals in which the reeds dance around Llew Kiek’s bouzouki and baglama and Steve Elphick’s bass.
In the title track “Sorella” the Mara! band sets the poetry of Edoardo Di Giovanni to music that crosses the Mediterranean between flamenco and North Africa. We are told that this will form part of a new suite of songs from Mara!. This preview is gorgeous and entrancing. It leaves us waiting eagerly for the full exotic experience.
The final track in which the whole group switches to percussion and vocals is a stand out piece in an album that never fails to entertain and intrigue.
A Mara! concert of CD is always a series of surprises and this release is no exception…maybe even more than usual!
I must say that I would have preferred to hear more track featuring Mara’s vocals. It looks like we’ll have to wait for the aforementioned Tra Parole e Silenzio suite for that treat.
- Music Forum - Journal of the Australian Music Council


Sezoni (with Martenitsa Choir)

“A fine and seamless dialogue between cultural time frames…a richly variable sound. A deeply structured set which allows for free playing ...(with) stark, pastel sequences and exuberant rhythms.” Rolling Stone 1997

“… a great deal of atmospheric control and a high density of tuneful capsules, the massed voices repeatedly throwing themselves off the cliff-face of suspense. Mmm, lovely.” Q magazine (UK) 1999

“…quite remarkable…one of the most poignant recordings you are ever likely to hear… a rich and thrilling tapestry…without a hint of overkill, “Sezoni” is sublimely transcendental, crucial.” Drum Media (Aust) 1997

“(Martenitsa) achieves a curious and irresistible blend of dark harmony…like a storm wind at night, and a girlish candy tone across arched tongues…set against (Mara!’s) giddy ensembles …with searing, flying solos…a glorious conjunction.” Sydney Morning Herald (Aust) 1997

Ruino Vino
“…the ideal hybrid of traditional music from East and West… a most creative “Neo Acoustic Music”… amazing and thrilling, containing a power beyond rock music… aggressive but human”.Marquee Magazine (Japan) 1997

“…vividly colouristic and highly rhythmic…gripping…sometimes there is a lovely, slow lushness to the music and at other times a powerful dervishing…” Sydney Morning Herald 1996

“…the usual excellent set from one of Australia’s top bands.” Dirty Linen (USA) 1996

“…the elements have been shaped into a totally coherent musical form that is much more than the sum of the parts. A music that communicates directly with audiences from Sydney to Stuttgart.” The West Australian 1996

Don’t Even Think
"...the band plays up a storm..." Australian Hi-Fi and Music Review 1990

“...an excellent record…guts, heart and brains in abundance.” Folk Roots (England) 1990

On the Edge, Images
“They just keep doing the unexpected, and it sounds great.” On The Edge Dirty Linen (USA) 1988
“Far ahead of the pack…one of ‘85’s landmarks.” Images Folk Roots (England) 1985
- Rollong Stone, Marquee magazine, Dirty Linen etc


The West's most magnificent music is undoubtedly that which involves voices and a brilliant instrumental ensemble. We're not making comparisons here with the Missa Solemnis , Mathew Passion or Symphony of Psalms, but this outstanding CD combines these resources in an inspiring way, on a folk music level spiked with contemporary jazz awareness.
The female choir achieves a curious and irresistible blend of dark harmony sung at almost a shout, like a storm wind at night, and a girlish candy tone across arched tongues. A bit of this sound has begun to permeate pop vocals. Some of the melodies are wonderfully pretty. When Mara sings against the drum, her wild, fast vibrato makes it sound as if she is beating her own chest. Linking all this and sometimes set against it are giddy ensembles with various reed combinations (an unusual and exciting one is the clarinet in unison with the soprano saxophone) and searing, flying solos from Evans and Gorman, bassist Steve Elphick and bouzouki virtuoso Llew Kiek. A glorious conjunction.
- Sydney Morning Herald


"The Dom Perignon of Australia's World Music Bands" - Sydney Morning Herald 2005
"It was a treat and a privilege to hear this band in such intimate confines....an equally profound and giddy cycle of catharsis and celebration". Sydney Morning Herald (Aust) 2003
"The music was intense, and the swinging musos impressed with their ability to play several instruments. Charismatic Mara Kiek in particular caught the gaze and attention of the audience, playing percussion and singing in several languages and many styles... the melodies and rhythms proved to be infectious" Vientiane Tmes (Laos) 2001
“The mixing of folk and jazz might on paper look rather unusual, but these Australians in the execution of it, turn it into something as a matter of course. I don't know of any other example where both genres go together so well. All elements faultlessly fall into their place, (and) coupled with the virtuoso musical spectacle that they offer, their fusion is a wonderful experience.” De Standaard (Belgium) 1999
“Brilliant sound in any language…Mara! was unforgettable” Sydney Morning Herald 1997
“… an extraordinary, fascinating performance.” Weser Kurier (Germany) 1997
“...steeped in strong Eastern marinades with a pungent accompanying aroma – the musical equivalent of a balsam vinaigrette…(Mara!’s music) springs to life with genuine vim.” The Australian 1997
"...a coup de charme which goes right to the heart." Le Telegramme (France) 1994
“Electrifying” Canberra Times (Aust) 1992
"...(in MARA!'s music)...there is a brilliant simplicity that reminds us at times (if one needed to make comparisons with the area of pop music) of the communicative urgence of Violent Femmes or certain strongly lyrical pages of the Cocteau Twins..." Tim Tam (Italy) 1991
“…many tongues, one heart… you’ll be cheating yourself if you miss them…” London Observer (UK) 1991
"...joyful seductive world music..." Sydney Morning Herald 1991
"...excellent Australian group matches instrumental improvisations with Mara Kiek's amazing voice..." City Limits (UK) 1990
“Beautiful, better than new... the music is more than the sum of its components... oblique, unexpected, witty... each musician interested in what the other players produced that night – that of course inspired one.” TAZ Bremen (Germany) 1990
"...sensational...the connection that spans the traditional melodies and modern jazz expressionism creates a unique mixture which stands alone...is pure and has been elevated to an art form..." Pforzheimer Zeitung. Stuttgart (Germany) 1987
"...MARA! predate the current vogue for jazz and roots music. What they offered was a glorious melange of traditional and contemporary..." Glasgow Herald (Scotland) 1986
"...their virtuosity and unexpected instrumental manoeuvres are breathtaking..." Folk Roots
- London Observer, Weser Kurier, Folk Roots, Vientianne Times etc


Discography

Tra Parole E Silenzio - Mara! with the Martenitsa Choir
Mara Music Records MM003 2012

Sorella - Mara! ARIA final nominee 2006
Mara Music MM002

Live in Europe – Mara! ARIA Winner 2001
Mara Music Records MM001

Sezoni - Mara! with Martenitsa Choir ARIA final nominee 1997
Real World Records CDRW78

Ruino Vino – Mara ! ARIA Winner 1996
Rufus Records RF 013 Dist Universal 1995
Laika Disc 35100792 (Germany) 1997
Marquee Records 97317 (Japan) 1997

Don't Even Think – Mara!
Sandstock SSM 042, Dist Topic Records UK 1990

On the Edge – Mara! (with Danny Thompson)
Sandstock SSM 025, Dist Topic Records (UK) 1987
CD King Records KICP 2083 (Japan)1989

Images – Mara! (with Danny Thompson) LP only – out of print
Plantlife PLR 070 (UK), EMI YPRX 2244 (Australia) 1985

Compilations:

Musical Traditions in Australia Folk Alliance Australia
FAA 003/004 (2002)
Beats and Bliss
EMI / Real World 7243 5 28760 2 0 Australia (2001)
Port Fairy Folk Festival, Live Celebration 2000
CD Shock Records PFFF002CD Australia (2000)
New Sounds IV CD collection New Sounds (Italy) 1998
All Shades and Colours Laika Disc 351000872 (Germany)
The Planet ABC Records, EMI 7243 8 54724 2 8 Australia (1996)
Essence of European Traditional Music King Records KICP 81Japan (1985)

Photos

Bio

Australia’s award-winning original World Jazz Fusion ensemble, features the cream of Australia’s jazz & world musicians.

Featuring pre-eminent female saxophonist Sandy Evans (OAM), legendary bassist Lloyd Swanton (Necks, catholics), Paul Cutlan (Australian Art Orchestra), Llew Kiek (award-winning bouzouki & baglama player) and singer Mara Kiek renowned in world music, Dance/Theatre (Meryl Tankard), Bulgarian choral (founder Martenitsa Choir), and Early Music (founding member Sinfonye - Brugge Festival winners).
Mara! have captivated audiences in Australia, Europe, Canada and Asia for 3 decades with their unique, virtuosic music, touring 21 countries & playing WOMADs Reading, Morecombe Bay, Hanover, Singapore, Adelaide and New Zealand.