Review

Dances on Moveable Ground: Yarlung adds another rung to the ladder of analog audio excellence

~By David Thomson

Raise your hand if you have heard, never mind heard of, the theorbo, the shawm, or everyone’s favorite, the sackbut.

These are but a few of the lost Baroque and Elizabethan instruments that Ciaramella brings to life to take us across Europe on an enchanted musical journey of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Don’t jump to judgement: That doesn’t mean that this platter doesn’t rock. Falconieri’s “L’Eroica” builds from a fugue to end with four-chord progression similar to Gene Chandler’s 1961 hit, “Duke of Earl.”

Indulge us as we quote the liner notes; ”As a wild dance from the new world with syncopated rhythms and rousing speed, it held both devilish and sacred associations during the Baroque period. Known as the most sexually implicit of all the dances in seventeenth-century Spain, the ciaconna included graphic lyrics and suggestive hip gyrations and was consequently banned by the Church. If one were convicted of dancing the ciaconna during the Spanish Inquisition, one could be sentenced to 200 lashes. Naturally, the Church’s antagonism greatly increased everyone’s interest in this exotic dance.”

You have been advised, listen at you own risk!

The album’s sleeve also exposes, in absorbing detail, the “Grounds” – the pun in the album’s title – a term depicting repeated chord progressions and melodies that lie at the heart of the music of the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

Ciaramella’s musical directors, Adam Knight Gilbert and Rotem Gilbert’s interpretation of these seemingly, familiar refrains, like the tease of the ubiquitous “Greensleeves,” is comforting today. Improvisations with big chords compounded with modern rhythms offer a transmigration through music with deep Spanish, English, and Italian roots.

Our memories are also refreshed as the renditions use the more recognizable hurdy gurdy, the dulcian, Flemish bagpipes, the Baroque guitar, and various percussion instruments that sound as familiar as today’s castanets.

What’s equally fascinating is that many of these original acoustic instruments are not available anymore. So, to highlight a few, craftsman Paul Beekhuizen created his reproduction of the Flemish bagpipe based on Bruegel’s engraving The Fat Kitchen while Joel Robinson built a different bagpipe by viewing Bruegel’s, The Peasant Dance.

Yet, leave it to Yarlung to capture the sonic excellence of these unique instruments. Enter Yarlung recording engineer Bob Attiyeh.” We chose microphone pre-amplification equipment designed and built for Yarlung by Elliot Midwood. Len Horowitz created our custom tube recording circuitry for the Yarlung analog tape recorder. It was all linked with short runs of silver stranded interconnects constructed by Yarlung. And, finally, the Austrian AKG C-24 stereo microphone was lent by our friend Jon Fisher at Gearworks Pro Audio.”

That’s right, ONE Microphone. When you hear this recording; the stereo separation, the deep soundstage and imaging of each instrument’s presence separately floating in the air of your living room, you will not believe that they weren’t mic’d and mixed independently.

Bob elaborated, “Instrument placement is everything. We had the good fortune to have access to Alfred Newman Hall on the USC campus so, we had a spacious setting with each musician separated by the distance required to simulate the soundstage presented on the recording. Not only that,” Bob added with delight, “Each composition was caught in one take.”

That’s typical of the Yarlung mission; To find the world’s greatest, unheralded musicians and unite them, in analog, with the most dedicated mastering engineers. Then, deliver to us neatly packaged CD and virgin vinyl formats that bend our belief system of what is sonically available from today’s stereo systems.

The gifted Steve Hoffman’s mastering technique is indelibly stamped on the vinyl version of the release.

The Absolute Sound recently awarded Yarlung’s Emmy winning Antonio Lysy: Music from Argentina one of the Top 40 recordings of all time. Ciaramella: Dances on Moveable Ground should make their Top 10.

The beauty of this “historic” release is its distinct musical and sonic uniqueness. And, that it can be indulged from the comfort of your couch. Don’t miss it.


Ciaramella’s original members met as graduate students at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. They first played together on Christmas Day in 2003 and have since performed in concert halls and in music festivals on three continents. For more information about Ciaramella please visit yarlungrecords.com and ciaramella.org.