Barbora Xu Olin Ennen
Review by Chris Nickson
"Enkö Minäkin Toivoisi"
Trying to pin down Barbora Xu’s music is like attempting to grasp mercury. She’s originally from the Czech Republic, but what she plays is steeped in diverse poetry-singing traditions – from both Finland and China (which prove to have more in common than you might imagine), played on various kanteles, guzheng, and guquin – all zithers of different sorts.
"Olin ennen otramaana" (excerpt)
While the texts might be ancient, in almost every case Xu composes the music, creating a spare framework that draws on those differing traditions, yet is strongly influenced by minimalism, and interestingly, those pillars complement each other. Even when the sound is filled out, as on the title cut, there’s still a sense of stillness, of barely breathing, even as a cello forms an interesting deeper counter voice to Xu’s own singing.
"Niku Nuku Nurmilinti" (excerpt)
With a few small exceptions, this is a completely solo disc. Mostly she takes poems for her texts, singing over music that flies above continents. She’s thoughtful in her playing. Every note is considered and exactly placed, especially on the instrumentals played on the guzheng, a Chinese instrument that offers a variety of sounds, from the long vibrato and slide to the disconcerting pitch shift. Xu doesn’t employ any virtuoso flourishes; they’d be out of place here, in the small calm oasis of “Niku Nuku Nurmilinti” (the only traditional melody on the disc) or the love poem to nature, “Enkö Minäkin Toivoisi,” where guzheng, guquin and the full-sounding wing kantele (played by guest Immu Heikkilä) create a lush, hushes forest to wander around.
The natural world is very much a part of the whole here, a reminder that we’re all one small cog in something much greater. Nowhere is that more heavily emphasised than on “Outro,” atmospheric music from Xu’s backyard, accompanying the songs of birds. It’s a gentle way to leave, almost like tip-toeing through the world.
At times, this album is ineffably Finnish – in the way a melody progresses, for instance, while at others a few notes transport the listener halfway across the world. It’s a delicious shapeshifting, a product of Xu’s glorious imagination and talent. It’s quietly daring and provocative, a very satisfying joy. - Chris Nickson