Rancane’s meditative exploration of folk songs on new album

Double-bassist Stanislav Yudin and ethnic singer Asnate Rancāne, though from different musical backgrounds (Yudin being a jazz musician, while Rancāne has a folk music background) teamed up to record the album Op. 2, a collection of folk song arrangements. The album, improvisational and subdued, is a meditative exploration of not just Latvian folk songs, but songs of other cultures as well.

Though the album is mainly just double bass and vocals, both musicians bring other instruments to the mix, as Yudin adds the kokle, keyboards and percussion and Rancāne also performs the kokle and reed pipe. These instruments, as well as those of some guest musicians, get synthesised into the diverse musical collage that appears on Op. 2.

The title track, an improvisation on the Latvian folk song ‘Tumsiņā(i), vakarā(i)’ begins with a quiet, plaintive introduction on the double bass, while Rancāne’s powerful, confident traditional singing is first heard at what seems like a distance, then slowly approaches. The song conjures up a mystic and magical vision, and the combination of the slow mournful sounds of Yudin’s double bass and Rancāne’s vocals leads the listener on a journey through a dark night.

The duo take inspiration from various folk songs, such as from the Bulgarian song ‘Яна турчин лъгала’, a song from the era of the Ottoman occupation of Bulgaria, about a Bulgarian girl who lies to a Turk about changing her religion from Orthodox Christianity to Islam. Rancāne faithfully reproduces the Balkan melody and character of the song, while Yudin’s slow and deliberate playing generates an authentic atmosphere.

‘Cik dziļa jūra’ is an introspective song of solitude, and is enhanced further by the sounds of the traditional Latvian kokle, possibly meant to evoke the sensation of being alone at the seashore, listening to the sounds of nature, and Yudin and Rancāne conjure up a similarly dreamy landscape. In a similar vein is their interpretation of the Russian song ‘Русалки’, a song from Trinity Week, where one of the elements is that the mermaids come out of the sea at this time and need to be given gifts (in this case, bread, salt, and onions). Yudin and Rancāne develop a magical music vision of this mystical event.

Saxophonist Artis Gāga and percussionist Artis Orubs join in on ‘Ganu dziesma’, a musical exploration inspired by the sounds of herders calling to their flock. Gāga and Orubs, as well as trombonist Laura Rozenberga, appear on the final track ‘Inspiration’, which serves as a dramatic and fateful conclusion to the album. With the thundering strings and brass, the performance, inspired by a Ukrainian song, offers a sharp contrast to the more meditative and quiet songs that came previously.

As there are songs from a number of different nations, it would have been helpful to include the lyrics and translations for non-native speakers, or at least an explanation of the song text (or even an indication of which culture a song came from), which would help develop an appreciation of the performances and interpretations even further. However, not knowing the details of a song adds to the mystery, which is perhaps the musicians’ desired effect.

Op. 2 is an engrossing and enchanting journey through not just Latvian folk songs, but also Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Russian and Lithuanian as well. Using mainly just double bass and vocals, Stanislav Yudin and Asnate Rancāne offer an entrancing and authentic voyage, with lush musical textures revealed by these improvisations. Rancāne, perhaps best known for her work with the modern folk group Tautumeitas, offers a quite reserved performance, as compared to the often boisterous energy displayed by that ensemble, but that just confirms her versatility, as well as how Latvian (and other) folk songs can work in many different settings and musical environments. The tandem have created a polished and vivid album, though mostly reserved and subdued, the album still engrosses the listener with its depth and creativity.

Op. 2

Stanislav Yudin, Asnate Rancāne

Brīvās mūzikas centrs, 2017

Track listing:

    1. 2
    2. Cik dziļa jūra
    3. Яна турчин лъгала
    4. Ganu dziesma
    5. Ne bet kokia
    6. Saulīte
    7. Русалки
    8. Inspiration

Egils Kaljo is an American-born Latvian from the New York area who lives in Rīga, Latvia. When not working in the information technology field, he sings in the Latvian Academy of Culture mixed choir Sõla, does occasional translation work, and has been known to sing and play guitar at the Folkklubs Ala Pagrabs in Old Rīga. Kaljo began listening to Latvian music as soon as he was able to put a record on a record player, and still has old Bellacord 78 rpm records lying around somewhere.

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