selected cd reviews

NI KANTU ● Clifford Allen ● February 2012, USA

Review by Clifford Allen, NI KANTU, February 2012, USA

" Varpai joins the Lithuanian singer André Pabarčiūté with German percussionist Klaus Kugel and Ukrainian bassist Mark Tokar for a series of ten improvisations that are full of detailed chamber arrangement while putting forth a strong degree of mass and energy. Vocally, Pabarciute reconciles the guttural, subtonal extremity and caterwaul of Diamanda Galas with bubbling lyricism, leaping from husky chatter and bent multiphonics to the range (if not the words) of a popular siren. Her voice is incredibly rich and, coupled with Kugel’s orchestral approach (large, contrasting sounds and hulking spaciousness), makes for a massive sounding small group. Tokar and Kugel vacillate between each player performing as an anchor and contrapuntally, with deep bowed chords and gong resonance building a foundation as arco flits and accenting cymbals and bells define and shape space. Pabarčiūté is certainly the main attraction on Varpai, even if the disc presents a cooperative trio – her vocal work is just that arresting, blending strands of Kate Bush and Jeanne Lee into an approach that’s decidedly her own."

ALL ABOUT JAZZ ● Eyal Hareuveni ● October 2011, USA

Review by Eyal Hareuveni, All About Jazz, October 2011, USA

This unique, pan-European trio of like-minded improvising masters--Lithuanian vocal artist/dancer Andrė Pabarčiūtė, Ukrainian bassist Mark Tokar and German percussionist Klaus Kugel--explore the multiple sound variations of their instruments, releasing them from typical conventions while inventing free form structures and pulses. With great sensitivity, imagination, patience and obviously flawless technique this trio succeeds in forming timeless, rich soundscapes that sound fresh, organic and inspiring.

On “Symphonic Fields,” Pabarčiūtė's broad vocal range touches Tokar's lower register arco and then soars gently to the stratosphere, while Kugel resonates with spare bells and cymbals. But the mood of this piece shifts organically between meditative tranquility and dense and powerful interplay. Tokar's fat, low arco grounds “Wood Dance” as a shamanic dance, contrasting the fast syllables of Pabarčiūtė and the distant, echoing rhythm that Kugel lays down. The interplay becomes tight and playful in “Play Or Way?” led by Tokar's assured pizzicato.

”Echoes Of The Trees” feature the angelic side of Pabarčiūtė's rich voice, enveloped by Tokar's deep tones and Kugel's sound objects, in a slow, archaic suite. Tokar and Kugel create a dense, open-ended soundscape on “Church In Blue” in which Pabarčiūtė's nasal grunts serve to bind the piece together. Tokar's atmospheric drones introduce the otherworldly “Sacred Forest Trio,” which patiently blossoms as a beautiful, telepathic interplay between arco bass, operatic grunts and resonating bells. “The Lizard Of Aukstumala” continues the previous moody soundscape, but is even more adventurous in its inventive, urgent sounds. “Archaic Glimpses” features the humorous side of a trio that is built with such free, playful improvisations. The concluding title piece, with its chiming bells and Pabarčiūtė's gentle, angelic voice, feels like a farewell prayer after this fantastic trip in sound.

Andrė / Tokar / Kugel is a remarkable trio that has only begun to explore its potential.

Track Listing: Symphonic Fields; Wooden Dance; Play Or Way?; Echoes Of The Trees; Church In Blue; Lost Inside; Sacred Forest Trio; The Lizards Of Aukstumala; Archaic Glimpses; Varpai.

Personnel: Andrė Pabarčiūtė: voice; Mark Tokar: double bass; Klaus Kugel: percussion, sound objects.

All material copyright © 2011 All About Jazz and/or contributing writer/visual artist. All rights reserved.

TOUCHING EXTREMES ● Massimo Ricci ● September 2011, Italy

Review by Massimo Ricci, touchingextremes, September 2011, Italy

Andrė Pabarčiūtė is a singer from Lithuania whose style is somewhat evocative of Julie Tippetts with clear East-European accents. But it is her dramatic vocal agility which results especially valuable over dealings with instruments that may run parallel to – or slightly contradict – instant visions and melodic allusions during a specific performance. At times she lets a modicum of elegant irony slip out, sparingly and, in any case, complementarily in regard to the “transcendental” characteristics of the improvisational tendencies. Mark Tokar plays double bass with concentrated absorption and utter openness to the act’s contingent events, showing an unwavering focus from which the will of enclosing devotion and wisdom in a single entity transpires. Percussionist Klaus Kugel employs the resonant properties of his arsenal to add an essential third dimension to the multi-layered textures generated by the trio, being also the element who better highlights the nearly ritual aspects of the interplay. From him and Tokar arrive several stern warnings under the shape of threateningly remarkable frequencies, utilized by Pabarčiūtė as a means to investigate the contrasts occurring through the different expressive ranges. Varpai – born in a church in Osberghausen, Germany – is a substantial album made with relatively recognizable constituents spiced with parsimony and good taste, exploiting the long reverberations and large spaces of the recording site with appreciable poise. This kind of artistic soberness should be a prototype to emulate for many hyped-yet-vacuous productions of our time.

SQUID'S EAR ● Dave Madden ● April 2011, USA

Review by Dave Madden,, April 2011, USA

A Lithuanian, a German and a Ukrainian walk into a church...

No joke — that's the premise of Varpai. Singer Andrė Pabarčiūtė, percussionist Klaus Kugel and upright bassist Mark Tokar explore their instruments and the lush acoustic space of Church Sankt Mariä Namen in Engelskirchen-Osberghausen Germany. The results are a true mélange of stylistic diversity with one theme that permeates the ten pieces: integration. Jazz, so-called world music and the use of extended techniques fuse into a remarkable set of shapes within a frame (that being the moment each track stops and starts), the three musicians continually stepping back just before the moment you can hang a label on them.

The introduction, "Symphonic Fields", establishes this precedent with a work that is at one moment Dead Can Dance, another George Crumb's Madrigals series: Pabarčiūtė flits between operatic warbled notes, frenzied quavers, whispers and ritualistic chants; Kugel plies a bed of bowed and rung bells, clacking wood, subtle bullroarer and timbre-opulent gongs — making use of everything he's rarely hired to play during his day gigs; Tokar works as a mediator between the two, caressing the mix with deep tones, then accelerating in a flash at his highest register, then carrying the sporadic melody begun by Pabarčiūtė. The trio pivots into "Wood Dance", a guttural undertow of Pabarčiūtė's choking breath, heaves and nonsensical sprechstimme, Kugel's insistence of metallic drones and reverberant pounding, and Tokar's spiders-on-your-back pizzicato and clawing harmonics.

Though most of the works wallow in tense placidity and slow exhales, the trio often bubbles up to the surface with tender playfulness (i.e. Pabarčiūtė's sing-song child voice paired in frantic duet with the bassist's trills and staccato cracks over Kugel's maniacal rumble on "Archaic Glimpses"; after a series of unison "shouts", the shuffling beat, almost-scat outro of "Play or Way"). However — here is the punch line — their success is rooted in the realization of sounds that creep and sneak and writhe together, these the group unrolls as an enigmatic bargello, one lugubrious gesture at a time.

FREEJAZZ-STEF ● Stef Gijssels ● March 2011, Belgium

Review by Stef Gijssels, Freejazz-stef, March 2011, Belgium

Vocal (other)-worldly stuff

I usually am not a fan of vocal improvisation, but there are exceptions. It is extremely difficult to explain why it sometimes works and why it sometimes doesn't. I think a lot has to do with attitude and authenticity. Very often vocals in modern music come across as posture, pretense and pyrotechnix - like in lots of operas by the way - yet rarely it sounds real and unaffected, like in these two albums.

The second common aspect between both albums is their lack of concern for musical genres and styles, while at the same time respecting them - they integrate and take it a step further. Purists of either jazz or world music will not specifically like those albums for this reason, but those willing to discard conventions will surely enjoy both albums.

The trio is Klaus Kugel from Germany on percussion, Mark Tokar from the Ukraine on bass, Andrė Pabarčiūtė from Lithuania on voice.

I've praised the qualities of both Kugel and Tokar before, with the bands "Yatoku", and last year as the winner's of the Happy Ears Award with "The Passion". Both men are extremely precise instrumentalists with a shared musical vision of sculpting jazz into a more universal musical language.

Lithuanian singer Andrė Pabarčiūtė was unknown to me, but her singing qualities are astonishing. The overall atmosphere of the music is minimalist, with lots of arco bowing and light percussive effects, with an almost classical chamber music feeling. Even if unfamiliar, the music is gentle and welcoming, with no clear references but with influences from jazz, folk and classical.

André's worldless singing is equally light, abstract and unpredictable. She can sing like a bell, clear incantations, she can use her voice as instrument, prolonging sounds, using her throat, lips, tongue as extended techniques, resonating with the bass, screech like a bird, or add dark-toned drama and intensity.

Everything is refined and pure and open-ended and fully improvised. Like so much of minimalist music, the full attention goes to tone and shades of tones creating a common musical universe rather than three musicians playing together. The title - Varpai - means bells or chimes in Lithuanian (if I can trust the online dictionaries) and it is especially the latter that the music sounds like, like chimes moving with a common wind, bringing a coherent, light and resonating sound that is attractive without being repetitive once.

A wonderful listening experience.

JAZZREVIEW.COM ● John Vincent Barron ● February 2011, USA

Review by John Vincent Barron,, February 2011, USA

Rating: Five Stars

For an ensemble to create a lengthy recording of improvised music worthy of an attentive audience, it takes a unique combination of technique and empathy. Such is the case with Varpai from the German-based trio of vocalist André Pabarciuté, bassist Mark Tokar and percussionist Klaus Kugel. The three like-minded artists perform through ten, seamlessly connected pieces with a strong sense of musical connectedness, impressively void of pretension.
With emotional wails and melodious, nasally grunts, Pabarciuté displays a broad vocal range, at times matching the bowed upper-register riffs of Tokar's bass with horn-like acumen. On the opening "Symphonic Fields," for example, the vocalist finds space for soothing tranquility, only to be disrupted with forceful aggression, matching the mood of her cohorts.

Tokar's larger-than-life tone and impeccable intonation is front-and-center with pizzicato runs on "Play or What?" and arco drones on "Sacred Forest Trio." The latter features telepathic-like communication between bass and voice.

Kugel, a veteran of the renowned Ganelin Trio, acts as a skilful colorist, utilizing a variety of percussion to create varied and rich shadings. At times bombastic, at times sparse, Kugel chooses his sounds wisely, either reacting to what he hears or initiating a change in direction.

Varpai is a fresh, spontaneous sonic delight. An enjoyable listening experience.

JAZZ ALCHEMIST ● Bartek Adamczak ● December 2010, Poland

Review by Bartek Adamczak, JazzAlchemist, December 2010, Poland

This is musical journey into the centre of the earth. Peaceful, meditative, with lots of extended techniques, little 'melody' but all sound, very organic and natural. Stripping the instruments (including the voice) of all expected notions of how it "should" be used. The silence and the resonance of the long-gone sounds are here as important as the sounds themselves.

In those You will hear shimmering water, wind brushing through leaves or going through hollow tree trunks in the forrest. Those natural inspirations can be quite easily traced in the tiltles on the album - "Symphonic Fields", "Wood Dance", "Echoes of the Trees". Varpai (if Wikipedia is any help) is lithuanian for 'bells' and You will also hear a lot of those, gongs, bows on plates, archaic or ritual objects, small sounds dying slowly in the time and space. All the 'self-composed' pieces were recorded in church and this music is also very spiritual, mystic, but I would say that this spiritualism is somehow of the pagan, ancient descendance, the whole performance being some kind of celebration and sonic decodification of Mother Earth. Music that manages to be rich and full-textured and spare and light at the same time. Completely abstract, yet strangely accessible and hypnotizing (lot of Air, Water, Earth but very little Fire). Escaping the common time and space reality it is, to cite the short liner notes, "otherwordly" and "rich with a sense of timeless". While avoiding the soothing cliches of new age music, this is captivating, engaging, very unique and rewarding listening experience.