New Vinyl BREAK THE DAWN from iyatraQuartet
By Angie Lemon.
Inspired by English poetry, Indian Ragas, memorial plaques and Arabic love songs, their all-new album BREAK THE DAWN is a bold new vinyl with 9 tracks performed by “One of the most exciting new music groups around at the moment…” (Sonic Imperfections).
Welcome to London’s iyatraQuartet, pronounced ‘eye-at-ra’.
iyatraQuartet take their name from the Hindi word ‘yatra’ for ‘travel’ with a sense of a ‘pilgrimage’, a journey that started for the quartet 7 years ago. Clarinettist George Sleightholme and violinist Alice Barron met at the free improv group called Moot, started by George at The Royal Academy of Music, while doing Masters Degrees on their respective instruments. Cellist wizard, Rich Phillips from the Royal College of Music and global percussionist, Will Roberts joined them soon after and iyatraQuartet was born.
BREAK THE DAWN has both delicacy and power throughout with a wide variety of instrumentation including the lead instruments of violin (Alice Barron), bass clarinet (George Sleightholme), cello (Rich Phillips) and percussion (Will Roberts). Additional performances all from the quartet feature on bodhran, singing bowls, charango, kalimba, rice bowls, tabla and a healthy dose of sublime vocals.
BREAK THE DAWN has little pieces of unusual English history throughout with compositions inspired by a classic English poem (BLACK SEAS), a Renaissance keyboard manuscript (DOMPE) and memorial plaques from Oxford’s Somerville College (ALPINE FLOWERS).
We head down to the sea for the album’s strong opener, BLACK SEAS, inspired by the poem 'Sea-Fever' penned by the British Poet Laureate, John Masefield OM who held office from 1930 – 1967. Many a composer has turned their hand to 'Sea-Fever' including Patrick Clifford and John Ireland, yet iyatraQuartet's emotive composition includes an engaging percussive intro followed by unique twists and turns on violin, cello and bass clarinet found in no previous work. A beautiful and evocative instrumental of the original theme.
DOMPE starts with delicate kalimba picking and charango pizzicato before strident plainchant three-quarters of the way through. DOMPE takes its inspiration from ‘My Lady Carey’s Dompe’ – one of the earliest surviving Renaissance keyboard manuscripts penned by an unknown composer during the reign of King Henry VIII and is a standout track on the album with all the elements in play that are iyatraQuartet’s musical strength.
The album’s pivotal track, BHAIRAV (‘Break the Dawn’) is based on the early morning Indian raga, Raga Bhairav, which explores the contrasting aspects of Bhairava – a manifestation of Shiva – said to have created, sustained and then dissolved the three stages of life, a journey reflected in the music which travels from a slow extended melody to stronger more intense melody and rhythm. BHAIRAV celebrates both the joyful and darker aspects of life as symbolised by the sunlight breaking through after the long night at dawn.
Indian music is an important influence and part of iyatraQuartet’s music thanks to violinist Alice Barron, who has taken to studying South Indian violin techniques with India’s star violin duos, the Mysore Brothers – Mysore Nagaraj and Dr. Mysore Manjunath. As Alice says in her own words,
“Carnatic violin playing is a big influence for me … that has become [part] of my playing and I think it’s spilled over into everyone’s playing… it’s the left hand’s incredible versatility and technicality that I find very challenging and I’m learning a lot from.”
CHANDRA is a deep and powerful composition written for India’s leading female classical singer, Chandra Chakraborty in 2017 as part of London’s Merton Arts Space project with iyatraQuartet. It is a celebration of life with a melody based on Medieval plainchant and Cuban and West African percussion styles. CHANDRA uses a mode that is common to both Medieval plainchant and the Indian Raga Yaman.
The piece LAMA BADA came about through iyatraQuartet’s chance meeting with Basel and Mohammad ‘Taim’ Saleh from the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians, which then became The Songs from Syria collaborative project performed at the 2018 Songlines Encounters Festival, Bloomsbury Festival and Brighton Open Air Theatre. This collaboration produced the track LAMA BADA that features on BREAK THE DAWN, focusing on the confusions of love, based on an Arabic love song. LAMA BADA is carried along by the quartet’s wizard cellist, Rich Phillips’ with George Sleightholme accompanying on his very own dismantled half clarinet.
Memorial plaques found on the walls of Oxford’s Somerville College Chapel feature on the haunting piece, ALPINE FLOWERS. iyatraQuartet sing interweaving mantras using the words from the plaques dedicated to significant women at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, “Rosemary/Friend to so many/In 1900 she rescued two lame girls from a burning school, and so passed into glory/In Memory”.
BREAK THE DAWN was recorded at London’s Union Chapel by Head of Technical, Les Mommsen and is the group’s second album. It follows on from the critically acclaimed debut THIS WORLD ALONE (2015), which received a 5-star Album Choice by fRoots and a 4-star review in Songlines Magazine, in which the band were cited for their '... exquisite polyphony... certainly a journey worth joining'. iyatraQuartet have enjoyed performances at WOMAD UK, Cambridge Big Weekend, Totally Thames Festival and London International Arts Festival, as well as multidisciplinary projects with contemporary dance, live poetry and film. In a recent live session on London’s A World In London, World Music Charts panelist DJ Ritu described iyatraQuartet as “an absolute triumph”.
As iyatraQuartet says of BREAK THE DAWN: “Break the Dawn celebrates transformation - the first light of day; emotions of love, joy and deep reflection; the richest colours of indigo to the most vibrant gold; the movement of people across land and sea; ancient melodies reimagined; and our instruments dismantled and reconstructed to make something entirely new.”
iyatraQuartet’s music finely expresses the global spirit of London.
The vinyl BREAK THE DAWN will be self-released on:
Wednesday Sept 30th 2020 accompanied by an online vinyl album launch concert streamed from London’s Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses, 18:00-18:45:
Alice Barron: (London Sinfonietta, Quincy Jones, Talvin Singh, Sam Lee) violin, scordatura violin, kalimba, rice bowl, vocals.
George Sleightholme: (Club Inègales with Peter Wiegold and Notes Inègales, A wedding for A R Rahman in India) Clarinet, bass clarinet, singing bowls, floor tom, half clarinet, toy mbira vocals.
Rich Phillips: (Hofesh Shechter Company, Heritage Orchestra, Nigel Kennedy's Orchestra of Life) Cello, scordatura cello, charango, vocals.
Will Roberts: (The Scorpios, Tonzee - Brazilian samba rock band, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre) percussion setup, bodhran, clarinet, singing bowl, frame drum, tabla, muted djembe, charango, vocals.
Album links: https://tinyurl.com/tgnaxyv