Savina Yannatou is a singer from Greece who has background in classical (baroque/Renaissance era), folk music of Europe & the Middle East, and jazz/free improv. She and her band endeavor to unpretentiously weave all these strands together for a tapestry virtually [hyperbole alert!] unparalleled in modern music. Ms. Yannatou’s vocal talents had the breadth of an unusually eclectic ethnomusicologist, the chops of Patty Waters, Diamanda Galas, Joan La Barbara, and (dare I say) Yoko Ono and most importantly the soul of someone who loves music in all (or at least most) of its myriad incarnations.
What a paragraph. But and here’s the amazing part every word is true. Savina Yannatou & her band o’ swells took to the stage of Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music and for the most part WOWED the capacity crowd. I only use the "for the most part" qualifier not because of any shortcomings on the part of the performers, but in some of their renditions of songs from many lands featured an unfettered, free-form, free jazz, free improvisational freak-out segment seemed to nonplus the predominantly "folkie" crowd. (I mean, with the right kind of eyes, one could practically see the "question marks" appear over the heads of many audience members.) I rather found these sections quite exhilarating myself, but then, I still listen to free jazz & old-school punk rock. Anyway, Ms. SY sang story-songs from various regions of Sicily, Greece, Spain, Palestine, & Macedonia (among others) with astonishing technique and poised, almost serene ease. She sang lyrics like an angel, like a demon, like a forest spirit, like the wind through the cracks of an old house, and she made "sounds," glottal yelps, clicks, and that old crowd-pleaser, chording that vocal technique the throat-singers of Mongolia where they sing two different chords at the same time, producing a fural, scary tone. Her band Primavera en Salonico with one exception, the same on her latest, very fine ECM disc Sumiglia were all aces, a bunch of hepcats from the folk and the jazz worlds of Greece. Especially impressive was the percussionist, who was surrounded by all manner of unusual, mostly round objects that resonate when struck or stroked, an array one might see (literally) surrounding Art Ensemble of Chicagoans Dom Moye and Roscoe Mitchell. At the risk of sounding the starry-eyed fanboy, this performance was the definition of Transcendent. Miss the rarified musicology of Ms. Savina & her homies at your peril.