Belinda Sykes & JOGLARESA

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The Times December 2005, by Hilary Finch
Joglaresa are at the forefront of the current efflorescence of singers and instrumentalists whose study of improvisation and ethnomusicology informs and shapes their imaginative re-creation of medieval music-making. And what they performed at the start of St John’s Christmas Festival was, in its day, at a similarly sharp cutting edge: songs of ecstatic spirituality, no longer in Latin, but in a raw and ringing vernacular. Belinda Sykes has three real-live Italians in her line-up: Catia Gianessi, Riccardo Delfino and Pierino Rabanser ensured that vowels and vocal colours were as brightly coloured as the Advent purples and gold of their silken apparel — and as pungent as the music itself.

This programme focused on two collections of Laude spirituali: from Cortona in the 13th century, and from Florence in the 14th. Believe it or not, these exquisite manuscripts indicated no rhythms, harmonies or instrumentation — so informed guesswork is the order of the day. And Sykes is more informed than most.
Her study of voice and improvisation in North Africa, Spain and the Middle East was thrillingly evident in the instrumental dervishes and drones, and in the vocalism of A new star has appeared, with its melismas and its spooky, tritone-inflected melody.

Lovesongs to Mary, hypnotic refrains circling round the appearance of the angel Gabriel, and wine-dark harmonies from Corsica: the sweet soprano of Jennie Cassidy, the resinous tones of Catia Gianessi, and the wild ululations of Sykes turned in the kaleidoscope with the lone, rough-hewn tenor of Pierino Rabanser.
And the dead goat? That was tucked under Rabanser’s arm, its torso inflated by human breath, as a single-reed bagpipe. In the company of hurdy-gurdy and angelic gothic harp, it wheezed its way through song and dance.

Paul Clarvis’s battery of percussion, including giant tambourines and hollow Egyptian tabla, brought both magic and menace to this medieval Italian Christmas.

FROOTS May 2008, by Michael Hingstone
The members of the variable line-up of Joglaresa come from various areas of jazz, classical and world music. They mainly perform early music of various types and Stella Nuova is a recording of a live performance of Italian medieval repertoire. For this recording, the more permanent members of the ensemble, Jennie Cassidy (voice, Ben Davis (fiddle, voice), Paul Clarvis (percussion) and Belinda Sykes (bagpipes, voice), are joined by three Italian musicians: Catia Gianessi, Pierino Rabanser and Riccardo Delfino. The repertoire is taken from the religious songs of the 13th and 14th century known as laude, which were composed in the vernacular Italian rather than in latin as had been the custom up to that time.

Early Music performances can sometimes be a little staid, serious and academic, but not with Joglaresa. They bring the material to vibrant life and the performances of these pieces have a carnival-like exuberance that is accentuated by being captured in a live performance, which was recorded in Manchester in December 2005. The main focus of these songs is on the vocal interaction, but the supporting instrumentation is excellent. Belinda Sykes uses all her experience in early Music performance to organise and direct an enjoyable and virtuosic performance.