I have long been fascinated with the spaces in-between, with art that originates from the borders between major forces. Because, in these places, the mix of familiar and exotic are often intoxicating, exhilarating and challenging all at once -- especially if the work comes from a group as talented as Ukrainian women's choral group Kitka. Their newest release, Wintersongs, is a gorgeous mixture of earthy Middle-Eastern tones, exotic Eastern vocal styling and the heart-breaking beauty of traditional Western sacred music.
Though the songs are all Eastern European holiday carols, the sound is so unique that the album can be listened to all year long. This is definitely not your Burl Ives Christmas music. The feel of each track varies between the sensual rhythms of a Middle-Eastern bazaar and the holy purity of a Western religious service. And if you think the country of origin will predict which style you get, think again. A song like "Tec, Peleite," one you'd swear came straight from a Persian coffee house, is actually from Latvia. A Greek number like "Oj, U Hordi" could come strait from the Pope's CD collection. This makes Wintersongs a constant surprise and road of discovery, and not just of exotic countries and foreign lands. Western listeners might be surprised when they hear "Shchedrik," as the famous strains of "Carol of the Bells" ring out, in this original version of the popular American translation.
While the academic opportunities in Kitka are delicious to the thinking music fan, in the end the album stands on its rich sound tapestry and sheer vocal beauty. While Western ears might perk most to the incredible crystalline glory of more traditional holiday offerings, the exotic eastern sounds are both joyous and invigorating, a call to dance and sing and throw yourself into the heart of the holiday season. This makes Wintersongs a learning and listening experience of the first water, any day of the year.