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REVIEWS of Trio Kavkasia's third album,
The Fox and the Lion

Fox & Lion

September/October 2006


The Fox and the Lion

Traditional Crossroads CD 4331
Full Price (74 mins)

The music of Georgia takes holiday to the US of A

Georgian polyphonic singing is one of those musical treasures of the planet that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. And it might yet have the same effect on another world, having been dispatched with the Voyager spacecraft in 1977 as a sample of earthly culture. Georgian music doesn't follow the rules of Western harmony, but is full of clashing dissonances broken up by bare unisons and fifths. It's a glorious sound — and one that varies across the country, with sumptuous drinking songs from Kakhetia in the east, virtuoso yodeling from Guria in the west and strange, jagged harmonies from Svanetia, up north in the Caucasus mountains. The best-known group at home and internationally is the Rustavi Choir, but this is a living tradition regularly heard at celebrations and feasts, with a long succession of toasts and polyphonic songs around the table.

Trio Kavkasia, as the name suggests, is just three people. Theirs is a lean, stripped-down sound, often much closer to what you'd hear around a dinner table. And what the names of the singers reveals — Carl Linich, Stuart Gelzer and Alan Gasser — is that they're not Georgian at all, but American devotees of Georgian music. But this shouldn't put you off — their performances are entirely convincing, and they've all sung with choirs in Georgia. What's more, they unearth some rare repertoire from recordings made in the early years of the 20th century. The only drawback is that, although most Georgian songs only require three independent parts, they are usually performed by larger groups, and the Wedding Song from Telavi ideally needs more than the three voices it gets here. Exceptional, however, are intimate songs like the Gurian hymn about Judas' betrayal which, with its unsettling harmony, is up there with J S Bach, and the soft, understated jewel Sadats Vshobilvar (Where I Was Born). Magnificent.

— Simon Broughton

Islam & Givi
singing for Islam Pilpani and Givi Pirtskhelani
in Tbilisi (2002)

September 1 - October 7, 2006

The Fox and the Lion

Traditional Crossroads 780702-4331-2

... Also in excellent hands — and voices — is the ancient tradition of choral music from the eastern Black Sea republic of Georgia, thanks to Toronto's Alan Gasser and Trio Kavkasia. For a small country, Georgia is blessed with a dazzlingly rich diversity of languages and types of polyphonic vocal music, arguably its primary musical treasure. This three-part choral music can be traced back at least as far as the first millennium CE, which predates even the first polyphonic masterpieces premièred at the Notre Dame cathedral!

On "The Fox and the Lion" three eloquent voices and Georgian instruments (also played by the singers) blend exquisitely in unusual tunings and thrilling harmonic modulations. For example, listen to the surprising, shifting vocal chords on Tsmindao Ghmerto (Holy God), track 7. What's going on here? Apparently, the tuning of the voices relies on a series of 'stacked' intervals of pure beat-less fifths, instead of relying on the tonal subdivision of an octave used in most western music. This musical vocabulary results in a dense three part texture replete with various dissonances and so-called 'neutral thirds' (nothing neutral about them!). All the songs ultimately resolve on a peaceful unison or on one of those pure ringing fifths. Just don't expect this sophisticated three part folk music to abide by the rules of conventional western harmony — or to sound like Mozart!

I hope I haven't made this remarkable music sound forbidding, for it can be gentle and melancholy as in the homesick song Sadats..., track 12. This is music for liturgy, work, weddings, the recounting of epic deeds and, perhaps most importantly, for day-long feasts called supras. Luckily for all of us, this impressive choral tradition that remains a part of daily life, especially in rural Georgia, is being championed locally by Trio Kavkasia.

— Andrew Timar

interview 2002
radio interview after Tbilisi Conservatory concert (2002)

September 2007


The Fox and the Lion

Georgian Vocal Music
Trio Kavkasia (vocals)
Traditional Crossroads CD 4331
73:50 mins

Trio Kavkasia exuberantly quashes the myth that world music traditions are most authentically represented by indigenous musicians. This threesome hails from North America, but here they render Georgian vocal polyphony's often weird-sounding harmonies and scale tunings with precision and panache. Recorded in a Benedictine monastery in New York, the music sounds lush and resonant, revealing the Trio's nimble counterpoint, angular voice-leading, and strident chord tunings in all their dissonant glory (★★★★).

— Theodore Levin

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updated 18 February 2014