Alibi V.13 No.4 • Jan 22-28, 2004 

Blue Note

Kitka Wintersongs (Diaphonica)

Authentic Eastern European vocalism from a Berkeley, Calif.-based ensemble? Absolutely. Kitka's Wintersongs is in a class apart.

Kitka was founded in 1979 by women who wished to "share their passion for the stunning dissonance, asymmetric rhythms, intricate ornamentation, lush harmonies, and resonant strength of Eastern European women's vocal music." The ensemble has since become recognized as the foremost exponent of Balkan and Slavic choral repertoire in the United States.

Kitka is currently comprised of nine women plus a few "satellite" singers who join in for select concerts and recordings. In June 2002, all the vocalists heard on Wintersongs visited the mountain village of Kovachevtsi, Bulgaria where they lived in rustic surroundings, coached with members of the famed women's chorus Le Mystére des Voix Bulgares, and performed with them in concert.

Wintersongs is a collection of 20 Eastern European sacred and ritual songs. Selections range from "Tec, Peleite, Zèrnjju Zogtu," a pagan Latvian solstice song, to carols and Christmas/New Year songs from Moravia, Romania Bulgaria, Georgia, Hungary, the Ukraine, Belarus and Greece. Besides "Ma Navu," a familiar Israeli folk dance melody that blesses goodness, deliverance and peace; and "Shchedrik," a Ukrainian song from early in the last century that was transformed by American schoolteacher Peter Wilhousky into the oft-heard "Carol of the Bells," the unfamiliarity of the selections makes them suitable for year-round enjoyment.

Kitka's pristine vocalism and frequently haunting solos and duets display an uncommon fineness. Sometimes accompanied by accordion, flute, percussion, tabura and/or bouzouki, the women sing impeccably.

Of major importance, Kitka's wisdom in choosing eclectic repertoire results in illuminating contrasts of tempo, emotional content, and harmonies. A number of selections originate from repertoire of native folk ensembles; the arrangements retain the color of native traditions without overly romanticizing them. Kitka convincingly immerses us in the passion and ritual celebration at the root of all earth-centered culture. Though the engineering betrays some lower budget digital brightness and flatness of perspective, this is a wonderful disc.