Monday, May 26, 2008

MOR KARBASI - The Beauty and the Sea (Mintaka/New Note)

Myspace does the business again as London-based Israeli singer Mor Karbasi blossoms from internet rumour to new and exciting prospect in one highly-accomplished step.

A handful of well-received live performances have helped as well, but a test of this rich, passionate music that’s drawn from the Jewish Ladino tradition of Spain is how to get it onto disc without losing its emotional power.

With her highly promising debut release, Mor Karbasi manages this more often than not, her lithe vocals (relatively high-pitched, and with none of the Arabesques associated with compatriot Yasmin Levy) riding a beautifully-arranged bed of instrumentation — acoustic and electric guitar, oud, mandolin, bass, violin and percussion, with harmonium and harpsichord played by Mor herself — on a set that ranges across mournful balladry, light, peppy folksiness and high-charged, full-throated intensity.
It’s when Mor tackles the latter styles that this CD really works — opening track Roza makes dramatic use of flamenco rhythms, there’s a touch of spry Balkan playfulness on Mansevo Del Dor (the squeaky voiced Roma singer Mitsoura springs to mind) and the emotive double-tracked vocal on Komo El Pasharo Ke Bola brings some Sephardic lustre to a sparse, percussive backdrop.

Mor Karbasi can do mournful too — En La Kaye De Mi Chikez has deep pangs of cello that bottom out what could have been a thin vocal performance, the drama of La Pluma is all thrusting flamenco guitar and wailing violin, and Mor’s harpsichord adds a medieval flavour to La Galana I La Mar.

At times the album can veer ominously towards a schmaltzy, daytime Radio 2 feel, particularly on tracks furnished with string arrangements, but with songs split evenly between those written by Mor (alongside partner and guitarist Joe Taylor, who also produces) and more traditional numbers, there’s enough variety and strength of purpose here for the album as a whole to work with remarkabl consistency. The Beauty and the Sea is a stirring debut from a very talented new name on the Ladino scene.

This review first appeared on

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