Folk, Fusion, Jazz, World
Self- release, self-published, limited edition. Purchase from website
Reviewed by Peter Winkler, March 3rd, 2016
This multimedia release is Zulya’s finest and most ambitious work to date. It demands attention and accolades.
Zulya Kamalova, the Tatar/Australian world music trailblazer never ceases to surprise. Her previous release was a sci-fi computer music extravaganza. This one, back with her brilliant band The Children of the Underground, is a return to her world music adventurer mode but with several twists and turns. This release comes with a beautifully produced hard cover book of the story behind the songs with gorgeous paintings by the Kazakhstan pop surrealist artist Dilka Bear.
ARIA Award-winning singer songwriter, Zulya is one of Australia’s leading multicultural artists. On this CD she sings in Tatar, Russian, French, German, Portuguese and English and while her musical roots on the Russian steppes are always evident, she and The Children of the Underground stretch out into realms of jazz and experimental soundscapes on this wonderful album.
The book includes the lyrics with translations, fabulous paintings by Dilka Bear and the intriguing science fiction fairytale of a boy who loves chemistry. One day he hears the ethereal singing of the mysterious Alma, the girl with olive skin and falls in love with her. But his love is not returned and being a scientist, he does not understand the nature of love. So he decides to use his chemistry skills to invent an elixir to make Alma love him. But Alma loves a dreamer who is an astronomer and whose head is in the clouds. Her love for this stargazer is also unrequited. The chemist and the stargazer approach the riddle of love from very different perspectives. The songs on the CD follow this story leading to a conclusion that is as enigmatic as life, love and existence. This is a sophisticated multi-media work of great depth and beauty.
The Children of the Underground deserve individual recognition. This is a group of five musicians whose skills, musicianship, sensitivity and inventiveness are well up to the task of supporting an artist of such scope and vision. They are Anthony Schulz – piano accordion, piano : Andrew Tanner – double bass, jew’s harp : Lucas Michailidis – electric guitar, acoustic guitar : Aviva Endean – clarinet, bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, tenor sax, sound effects and Justin Marshall – drums, percussion. For this album they are joined by special guest Eamon McNelis whose trumpet playing works brilliantly in the arrangements. The variety of instruments and soundscapes is enthralling. I particularly enjoyed the way the bass and contra bass clarinet along with the double bass provide a dark underpinning for the brighter instruments. There are three instrumental works among the thirteen tracks; they are fascinating, quirky and at times quite comical.
Many of the songs utilise very odd time signatures. For example ‘For You There Is No Other’ has alternating bars of 9/8 and 7/8 which, while adding up to 16 is certainly not a pop groove. ‘God Has No Heart’ and the instrumental ‘Backwards and Forwards’ have so many different time signatures and odd bars that I gave up trying to work them out. But somehow the song-writing and the musicianship make all these strange rhythms work and remain accessible, enjoyable and captivating. Justin Marshall does a great job of getting all these odd time elements to swing and groove.
And of course the sublime, ethereal and enthralling voice of Zulya soars above, around and through these brilliant arrangements. On this album she has stretched out into some very jazzy melodies and even some moments of more harsh guttural vocalisations when the song and the narrative demand.
If you have heard Zulya’s earlier work and think of her as a folk or world music artist listen to ‘Autumn Nights’ and ‘Hours’ on this album. You’ll hear a jazz singer songwriter with a band that uses very jazzy chords and can really swing. These two songs in particular took me by surprise.
Zulya’s music has developed greatly over the years and especially when she is with The Children of the Underground continues to defy categorisation. The Russian and Tatar roots are still strong but on this album we hear new elements of Euro-cabaret jazz and distinct echoes of Kurt Weill. There is even a touch of Piazzolla when the accordion and clarinet add some very strange elements behind the vocals. Her multi-lingual lyrics have also become more sophisticated and poetic.
The CD sounds excellent! It was beautifully recorded, mixed and produced by Myles Mumford at Audrey and Bakehouse Studios, and mastered by Adam Dempsey at Deluxe Mastering, Melbourne. Sonically it is superb.
I have been very impressed by Zulya’s work since she arrived in Australia in 1991. This is her finest and most ambitious work to date. It demands attention and accolades. It deserves an Aria Award. I cannot recommend this release highly enough.
VIEW AND LISTEN
Book and CD Trailer :
Zulya Kamalova and the Children of the Underground website :
Zulya’s website has lots of photos and videos of her wide ranging career:
Bandcamp : https://zulyaandthechildrenoftheunderground.bandcamp.com/
Zulya’s Youtube channel. Videos of her previous projects:
Zulya with her band The Children of the Underground Youtube channel :