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Into the Shadow Garden
Artist: Copal
Label: Halytha music
Time: 6 Tracks / 37 minutes

The closed eyes, flowing logo and gold text on this CD cover suggest that there is something exotic here. The opening eight-minute instrumental “Roots” (with its darbuka, frame drum, oriental violin and cello) backs this up, rising from a low drone and with cello adding off-beat accents and brief harmonies.

New York-based Copal revolves around Hannah Thiem, who writes, plays violin (and sings when she has to). She shares space with two cellists, Isabel Castellvi and Robyn Ryczek. Keeping this rich acoustic strings mélange contemporary are the rock drumming of Karl Grohmann and Chris Brown’s “bass, keys and sound design.”

This is a disc of two parts. “Roots” and the closing piece “Shadows” are the longest two tracks and virtually built around the same theme. Where the end piece is full of subtlety, “Roots” tends to overdo the theme early on and its one-chord base lacks enough variation to enthrall (certainly compared with recently reviewed stunningly inventive instrumental explorations, such as on the Gryphon and Sissoko/Segal CDs).

In between these bookends, the exotic tone remains, but with a markedly different angle. The hypnotic “Ether” is one of two vocal tracks and features simple, sultry lyrics in German (can anyone else apart from Nico do that?): “Ich suche dich, fast jeden Tag  ... Ich träume von dir”. “Utigaro” continues the European tone, its somewhat direct melody taking something from Balkan dance.

The upbeat “Ceútara” is a highlight. Propelled by some inviolable drums, at times this is a bit like Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” done with violin, cello taking the riff forward.

So many labyrinthine strings give this release a warm, rounded, mysterious sound and the longer songs take breaks in the middle. If studied, the disc comes across as a little short of ideas, but as ambience it is like a musky, heady sonic joss stick for your personal space.

Derek Walker

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