Marc Egea - Melanocetus
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Marc Egea
Galileo/Efimeras (

The zanfona is an instrument that dates from the ninth century but fell out of favour over the 18th and 19th, and one with almost as many names as it has varieties of designs (including hurdy-gurdy, vielle à roues).

The ancient relative of both the violin and the bagpipe, it was played in Spain's Galicia until the 19th century and in parts of France and Hungary until the 20th. The French and Spanish variety, with its odd-sounding buzzing bridge, has a distinct sound that is both ancient and somehow futuristic. As technology developed, other instruments were thought to have more versatility, relegating the hurdy gurdy to an image of poor peasantry.

But this once-maligned instrument has made a recent comeback. In the hands of the Catalan ex-philosophy student Marc Egea it proves to be an instrument of many qualitites.

When Egea (now a professor of hurdy-gurdy and flabiol in Barcelona) took it up, the zanfona had a very short history in his native Catalunya. Thanks to the luthier Sedo Garcia and the performers Xavier Macaya and Eduard Casals, the instrument had gained some popularity and had been used in the interpretation of traditional Catalan songs in the last century.

But the approach of Egea, a former member of El Pont d'Arcalís, and veteran of a number of other Barcelonin musical ventures, is altogether different. On Melanocetus (named after a fish), Egea presents an original nine-element instrumental composition that is neither folk, classical, jazz or any other genre one could name. If the twentienth century wasn't over, I might call it 20th C. Experimental.

Each tune, if one can use the term, is a kind of a movementn in a symphony featuring certain orchestral elements like bassoon and cello, folk elements like bandoneon, and jazz sounds with the double-bass. Egea, together with a collection of mostly Catalan musicians, enchants and challenges the listener.

With a nod to Catalunya's long contact with Eastern civilizations, through the Mediterranean, "Possible" opens the set by combining zanfona, bagpipe and percussion. While it's an up-tempo piece, with a vaguely Middle-Eastern feel, to say it rocks would be an exaggeration. On "Fagocitandum" the hurdy-gurdy, percussion and double bass weave in and out in a kind of dance.

The jazz influence is also evident, particularly on three tracks: "Sichler: Muntanya de Pedra" features a fiesta of eclectic percussions. On "Ginkgo Biloba" the bassoon and the hurdy-gurdy perform a duet. "Bressolada" features Sandrine Robillard on the cello. There are also some primarily solo hurdy gurdy pieces, notably "Nunc Stans" (accompanied only by a frame drum) enough to demonstrate the wide possibilities of the instrument.

Other performers appearing on this 53-minute CD include Enrique Tellería on bandoneon, Enric Canada, cajon and bendir, the Venetian Franco Molinari, double-bass, Ana Losantos, bassoon and Jordi Vallverdú, Catalan bagpipe. None have the kind of resume as Egea, but all aquit themselves well.

This isn't traditional or roots in any sense, other than the lineage of the main instrument. Nor is it immediately accessible with ready hook lines and catchy phreases, though it does sometimes come perilously close. But it is worthy of interest and an investment of time. Egea is out to explore the limits of his instrument. It's an interesting and worthwhile journey. - David Cox

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"Nunc Stans"

Available from cdRoots


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