Thursday, February 28, 2008

YASMIN LEVY - Mano Suave (Network Medien)

The third album from the Israeli singer whose aim is to keep the Spanish-Jewish Ladino tradition alive, is another small step closer to the classic album we are waiting for.

This time Lucy Duran is on board as producer, so you know you’re guaranteed beautifully arranged songs with a warm, sympathetic texture. Levy’s emotional phrasing is deployed in a range of styles that circle the central Sephardic sound - Paraguayan harp, kora, flamenco guitar, Arabic instruments such as oud, ney flute and qanun all feature - with a noticeable inclination towards Turkish and North African influences (Anglo-North African singer Natacha Atlas is another guest artist).

Una Noche Mas is the highlight, and has the feeling of an instant World Music classic. Set to a waltz-like rhythm, the track builds in intensity against an echoing (almost ’60s sounding) production, with Yasmin at her emotional, sultry best. Elsewhere, there are one or two moments where Yasmin could be accused of playing things too safely, in particular when the roots influences are moved to the background in favour of lush strings and a smoothed out, emotionless vocal tone (not so much Moorish as MORish?), leaving the album a couple of tracks short of being the truly great album of which she is surely capable.

That’s a minor gripe, however, and if Yasmin Levy’s first album, Romance and Yasmin, was a remarkable statement of intent, and the follow-up, La Juderia, a worthy exercise in marrying traditional Spanish modes — especially flamenco — with the music of the Sephardic Jews, then Mano Suave takes Ladino one step further into a diverse and at times thrilling mix of emotive singing and evocative roots music. This is one to enjoy while awaiting the next step with eager anticipation.

This review first appeared on

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