Can This Even Be Called Music?
The fact that all of this album is designed and performed using xenharmonic theory is just mind-boggling. The various temperaments exploited on there are not just a gimmick, but truly serve the compositions. wp.me/p3mIfa-oTBFavorite track: Maglonia.
The folk music of Georgia is one of the earliest and richest polyphonic traditions in the world, despite being little known to the rest of the modern world. Combining a sense of national pride, musical invention and exploratory spirit, pianist/composer & arranger Giorgi Mikadze has created a striking new hybrid of traditional Georgian folk music and progressive microtonal jazz on his breathtaking debut album, Georgian Microjamz.
Georgian Microjamz discovers unexpected common ground between the ancient traditions of Mikadze’s native Georgia, where the Orthodox Christian church featured only vocal music in its services, and the very modern microtonal innovations of guitar great David “Fuze” Fiuczynski, with whom the keyboardist studied while at Boston’s Berklee College of Music.
Fiuczynski joins Mikadze to breathe life into this alien-sounding fusion, along with Greek-born bassist Panagiotis Andreou (Now vs. Now, Mulatu Astatke) and drummer Sean Wright (Musiq Soulchild, Taeyang). On three tracks the quartet is supplemented by the stunning vocals of Georgian choir Ensemble Basiani, while singer and ethnomusicologist Nana Valishvili adds a heart-wrenching vocal performance to “Moaning,” a powerful ode to the victims of the 2008 military conflict between Russia and Georgia.
Classically trained in his native Tbilisi, Mikadze didn’t set out to explore the music of the country he’d just left when he arrived at Berklee. It was in part the influence of peers and mentors that he saw investigating their own cultures and heritages in innovative ways that led him to cast his thoughts homeward.
“I met a lot of people from around the world while I was at school – Africa, India, Asia, countries that have so much musical culture,” Mikadze explains. “Hearing their music led me to check into my own roots, and inspired a major passion in me to create something unheard before. As I was developing as a musician, I started thinking more about what I could offer to the world and there’s no polyphonic tradition in any country like we have in Georgia.”
Coinciding with those inspirations was Mikadze’s meeting with Fiuczynski, who has been incorporating microtones – those myriad intervals to be found between the 12 tones of the standard Western tuning – into his rock-jazz fusions for decades. The guitarist enlisted Mikadze for his Planet MicroJam project, while the keyboardist then borrowed the term when naming his debut album.
“I’m really honored to have Fuze on my first album,” Mikadze says. “Meeting David opened up a completely different mindset for me.”
Georgian Microjamz triangulates Mikadze’s varied interests, discovering something that touches on a variety of genres and traditions but arrives at a wholly unique destination. “As musicians it’s important all the genres that have come before us so that we can create something out of them that represents our own voice,” he says. “ Lately, though, genre has come to mean much less to me than it used to. But my voice comes from my country.”
Since rediscovering his roots, and the vibrant musical heritage that underlies it, Mikadze has become downright evangelical about his homeland. An exuberant pride shines through as he boasts that Georgia is heralded as the birthplace of wine, with a viticultural tradition dating back at least 8,000 years. The Georgian folk song “Chakrulo” was one of only 29 compositions from the history of music around the globe that was included on the famed Voyager Golden Record, sent into space to represent the planet’s culture to any extraterrestrial intelligence that might happen upon it.
On his own visit to Tbilisi, the late Anthony Bourdain called Georgian folk music, “Hauntingly beautiful and otherworldly — kind of like Georgia,” while no less an authority than Igor Stravinsky once declared that, “Georgian folk music has more new musical ideas than all the contemporary music.”
So Mikadze is in good company when he enthuses about the country’s vivid musical heritage. Exploring the possibilities inherent in that legacy has become something of a life’s work for the composer, who looks forward to translating it through a variety of approaches. His previous effort was the eclectic project VOISA, on which he teamed with Ensemble Basiani for a reimagining of Georgian folk songs incorporating elements of, funk, fusion, hip- hop, R&B, electric-acoustic and microtonal music.
While Georgian Microjamz includes arrangements of three folk songs, this project is focused more on Mikadze’s original music, which draws inspiration from those songs rather than strictly reinterpreting them. The music is meant to offer a wide vantage point on the country’s culture, touching on influences from a different region on almost every track.
For example, the album’s two closing pieces, “Lazhghvash” and “Tseruli” – both featuring Ensemble Basiani – are inspired by the Svaneti region, in the Northwestern Caucasus Mountains. “Dumba Damba” looks to the music from the Adjarian Mountains, located on the Black Sea coast, in which Mikadze finds traces of swing feel and West African grooves. The opening prelude, “Metivuri,” stems directly from a vintage recording by the famed singer Ilia Zakaidze with the Georgian State Merited Ensemble of Folk Song and Dance.
“In Georgia you can walk 10 kilometers and hear a different dialect,” Mikadze points out. “We also have a very unique language, one of very few that doesn't have any relationship with any other language family. Even the alphabet is completely unique. So I tried to take inspiration from a different area for every composition I wrote, to create a kind of exhibition of folk music from different Georgian regions.”
While the album opens with the monumental sound of the Basiani choir, the human voice is used only sporadically on Georgian Microjamz, despite it being the heart of the Georgian music tradition. One of the most effective examples is “Moaning,” in which Nana Valishvili layers a traditional lament for war dead over an insistent rock beat. “I remember being so scared during the 2008 war,” Mikadze recalls. “At the same time that the world was watching the Olympic games in Beijing, Russia was bombing my country. I wanted to do this as a dedication for people who died in the 2008 war, and Nana performed it amazingly. It’s a moaning, a crying, but more a crying inside. It’s really heavy.”
Through the use of microtonal music, Mikadze finds a way to replicate the fluidity and power of the voice in instrumental music, while allowing him to incorporate a wealth of other influences, from rock to fusion to music from other regions of the planet whose traditions echo or intersect with Georgia’s. In Mikadze’s inventive vision, the music leaps effortlessly but intriguingly between time periods, styles and cultures in a constantly surprising hybrid.
“I wanted to make a sort of bridge from ancient Georgia to our current world,” he concludes. “My homeland gives me an endless source of inspiration. In a way, I think the world is lucky that they don’t know about Georgian music, because it gives everyone something new to discover. It’s become my life’s goal to serve this idea, to let people know about Georgian music and culture, and why it’s so unique.”
released February 28, 2020
Giorgi Mikadze: Microtonal Keyboards
David Fiuczynski: Fretless Guitars,
Panagiotis Andreou: Fretless Bass
Sean Wright: Drums
Ensemble Basiani on 4 (Elesa), 12 (Lazhghvash), 13 (Tseruli)
Nana Valishvili on 6 (Moaning)
supported by 18 fans who also own “Georgian Microjamz”
On the first track, the Kronos Quartet plays a composition Stephan Thelen wrote for it. Kronos is and for a long time has been my favorite for contemporary art music. It is very selective about what it chooses to perform, and everything it chooses to perform is well worth listening to. The other three tracks are also superb Thelen compositions, here performed superbly by the Al Pari Quartet. John Simms