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Chabuka AMIRANASHVILI (20th-Century)
Mystic of the Horizon
We Will Survive [7:35]
In Past [4:40]
Bao Bao [4:40]
Svani [5:25]
Small [3:05]
Imeruli [2:37]
From High [4:15]
Invisible [5:54]
Mystic of the Horizon [4:20]
When Do You Feel Pain [4:07]
Amin [2:53]
Chabuka Amiranashvili (all instruments – multi-tracked)
rec. 2020, Amiranashvili’s Studio (no further details available)
MEMO MUSIC MM6172 [49:31]

‘You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover’ is actually the title of a 1962 song by rock and roll pioneer, Bo Diddley, and was also one of his last record-chart hits. While the vast majority of my reviews are classical, this new release by Chabuka Amiranashvili did catch my eye, because, with a life-long interest in languages, I felt drawn to the unique Georgian script on the CD cover, and the fact that the composer’s surname ended in ‘shvili’ – a fairly common occurrence in the former Soviet republic, akin to English patronyms like Ferguson, or Johnson.

According to the rather scanty information with the CD, this new release from the ‘prolific Georgian musician and producer’ could be seen as an ‘imaginary soundtrack for a non-existent movie’. Amiranashvili composed and arranged all eleven tracks, and he plays all the instruments as well. Here it would have been quite helpful and informative if there were details of the main equipment used, because in this amalgam of synthesised and electro-acoustic sounds, he does manage to achieve a lot of complex-sounding timbres and textures.

However, the majority of available information is of a biographical nature, but, even with Google’s unusually unfailing intervention, it still proved impossible to discover the composer’s exact year of birth. He was born into a family of professional musicians, where his father, Givi, played various wind instruments at the Georgian National Theatre, as well as teaching trombone and tuba at the Tbilisi State Conservatory. Givi’s own father, Petre, had been a well-known singer at the Georgian National Opera Theatre. Amiranashvili has released several solo albums and now focuses on ‘Shara’, a group described as being ‘new Georgian ethno-folk’, and delivers the familiar Georgian style of polyphonic singing and playing, using traditional instruments.

‘Mystic of the Horizon’ opens with its longest track, We Will Survive, which begins compellingly enough, and basically comprises a simple, single piano line, over a synthesised string and vocal chordal background, which later adds the equivalent of a male voice singing falsetto to the texture, thereby mimicking a feature often heard in Georgian folk music itself. All in all there is just about enough musical substance to hold the listener’s attention to the end, although you’re probably be happy to move on, without further ado.
In Past is another fairly-conventional piano ballad, reinforced by a solid bass line and light percussion accompaniment. Sustained chords are then added, before a flute-like melody, complete with flutter-tonguing, is introduced at the same time as the music takes on an almost Latin-American beat. Bao Bao is yet another piano ballad, and follows a similar pattern of reinforcing the left-hand part with sustained strings, as before. Svani was initially created for the 2007 eponymous Georgian movie, and makes a number of musical references to the well-known Russian folk-tune, ‘Song of the Volga Boatmen’.

Since Svani is in the same key as its predecessor, and there isn’t really any substantial change in tempo, the timing of the next track – Small – initially appears well-judged. There is a welcome change of tonality from minor to major, but even then, stylistically-speaking, there still isn’t really enough to distinguish this track from what’s gone before – another number that wouldn’t feel out of place as dinner music provided by any piano trio in a posh hotel.

In terms of expecting a more Georgianesque experience, the following track – Imeruli – looks more hopeful, its title refers to someone or something from that country’s Imereti region. Encouragingly, it starts out with a whole-tone scale, which could suggest a different harmonic palette to follow. But when the harp takes over, its melodic material is still rooted in European traditions, rather than Asian, given that Georgia stands at the intersection of these two continents. While On High is still much in the same mould, with its prominent guitar opening and overall-busier melodic line and tempo, the listener does enjoy a second wind, even though the overarching structure, mainly based on slow-moving chordal ostinatos, has become a tad predictable by now.

Invisible is in the same key as its predecessor, and is once more cast in the piano-ballad mould. At times it is harmonically and stylistically reminiscent of the kind of easy-listening music from the piano of Frenchmen, Michel Legrand and Richard Clayderman a few decades ago. This could equally be applied to the next track – Mystic of the Horizon – from which the CD takes its name.

The penultimate track is entitled When Do You Feel Pain, and does mark a slight departure, since it starts out in a different key, and is certainly more up-tempo. Here a lead saxophone combines effectively with the human voice, the latter heard both singly and in some nicely-judged polyphonic passages.

The final track – Amin – is a setting of ‘The Lord’s Prayer (Pater Noster), and, for me, is by far the most interesting one on the CD. It opens with two synthesised double-reed instruments from the oboe family, suitably detuned to heighten the ethnic effect. A fairly typical, yet dynamically well-balanced Amiranashvili-type chordal-background is heard, while the voice of a young child recites the words of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ in the Georgian language. The whole effect of the final mix is especially poignant, and no more so than the way in which the final ‘amen’ (Amin) is softly reiterated, between verses, before finally vanishing into the aether, quasi niente, as the CD closes.

The CD sleeve-note concludes that it is difficult to file the album under a specific genre, given that it would seem to evoke ‘plenty of diverse sceneries [sic] like a sonic road trip, destination unknown’. I would personally tend to disagree in terms of diversity, given that, apart from the final track, it would seem possible to shuffle around the titles of the other tracks in any number of different permutations.

But the recording is impressively engineered, and combines to make this new CD a pleasant, easy-on-the-ear listening experience, with some fascinating textures and timbres in the process. And, if nothing else, it has whetted my appetite to get better acquainted with some authentic Georgian folk music, where a good starting point would seem to be with Chabuka Amiranashvili’s own ethno-folk ensemble, ‘Shara’.

Philip R Buttall

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