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jami sieber : Product Reviews

 
Derk Richardson, Strings (November 2004)
On her third CD under her own name, Seattle-based composer and cellist Jami Sieber retains the emphasis on texture that distinguished her previous recordings, 1995's "Lush Mechanique" and 1998's "Second Sight," but applies it to dramatically different ends. Known in the Seattle area for her role in the early '90s rock band Rumors of the Big Wave and her musical work in theater, Sieber is also recognized in wider folk-pop and women's-music circles for recording and performing with singer-songwriters Jennifer Berezan and Ferron. "Hidden Sky" opens up on altogether new worlds of artistic collaboration.

The recording is a musical extrapolation of the epiphanies Sieber experienced on a trip to Thailand in 2001, when she encountered a unique orchestra at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, where precocious pachyderms with such names as Phong and Prathida played xylophones, drums, and other percussion instruments. Sieber added recordings of the Thai Elephant Orchestra to only two tracks of "Hidden Sky," "Sukhotai Rain" and "A Common Music," but the other ten pieces--with such titles as "Mandlovu Mind" ("mandlovu" means elephant in the language of the N'debele peopleof Zimbabwe), "Out of the Mist," "Maenam," and "Homage"--clearly share the same inspiration. Ranging from solo electric cello through various trios, quartets, and larger ensembles, the performances hinge on slowly unfolding romantic melodies voiced with the dense, dark timbre of Sieber's masterfully wielded instrument. Impeccably clear and spaciously produced arrangements incorporate electric bass, viola, saxophone, classical guitar, a wide variety of ethnic strings and percussion, as well as a Croation-inspired vocal choir ("Arms of the Mother"), and reinforce the contemplative and devotional spirit of the music.

But lucid compositional vision, musical complexity, and stirring expressiveness dispel any facile new age associations. The way Sieber employs overdubbing and processing and entwines lovely singing with spoken work on the few vocal pieces recall Laurie Anderson's art-pop. But "Hidden Sky" is her own kind of world music, boasting immediate emotional impact and conveying resonant themes of an interconnectedness that goes beyond the gorgeous sounds.

 
Alexander Varty, The Georgia Straight (May 13-20, 2004)
It was "name that tune" time at an audiophile friend's house, and I was stumped. The music emanating from his meticulously rebuilt Dynaco speakers sounded somewhat familiar, and yet it was also utterly strange, in a way I couldn't quite fathom. Searching for comparisons, I thought of the tribal melodies of the Khmer people, in northern Thailand, and of the blues. I was also reminded of Javanese gamelan music--but I once studied gamelan, and I'd never heard this particular collection of tuned percussion instruments or these weirdly syncopated rhythms. Baffled, I gave up--and my pal, a fine musician in his own right, handed me the CD cover. Suddenly, it all made sense: the Thai references, the uncanny beats, the sense of some utterly foreign intelligence. The music had been recorded in Thailand, and the instruments had been custom-made for the performers. But the performers were elephants, residents of a sanctuary for working animals made redundant by the mechanization of the Southeast Asian logging industry. The Thai Elephant Orchestra, issued by the tiny Mulatta label in 2002, remains one of the most extraordinary listening experiences I've ever had, but I'm willing to bet that my introduction to the music pales next to that enjoyed by cellist Jami Sieber, who not only got to hear the elephants live, but managed to sit in with them, too.

"I spent two days with them." says Sieber, who was in Thailand to work on the soundtrack for an as-yet-unreleased film about the sanctuary. Calling from her Bay Area home, she describes this experiment in interspecies music-making as a revelation. "The first day, I set up and played music for the elephants, to introduce them to who I was and to the sound of the cello. It was an incredible experience. There were people weeping in the bleachers, just because of the way the elephants approached me and sort of made their way closer to me through listening." "The next day I went back and recorded with the elephants, just set up microphones and improvised with them. And it was deep. I mean, I don't know if I can really put words to it. I just know that afterwards I felt this intense joy, and this intense connection to them. It was otherworldly."

Some of the researchers contend that elephants are among the most intelligent of mammals, citing their intricate clan alliances and elaborate mourning rituals as evidence that they possess a sense of social structure equal to that of any primate or cetacean species. And certainly the sounds they make indicate that they have an ability to deal with musical structure: in their pauses and repetitions, these elephants' songs are clearly more than random improvisations. Sieber was so moved by what she heard and saw that she features the elephants on her new CD, "Hidden Sky", and when she comes to the Western Front on Sunday (May 16,) she'll devote part of her concert to a slide show about her experiences at the Thai Elephant Centre. But interspecies collaborations are only a small part of the new record, and the joyous sounds of pachyderm percussion are balanced by some deeply sorrowful compositions that reflect man's inhumanity to man.

"The first time I went to Thailand was in February of 2001," Sieber explains. "The September before I had toured the Balkans: Kosovo and Bosnia and Croatia. The tour was sponsored by all these women's organizations, and part of our purpose in going there was to witness some of the stories that these women told--not only about their experiences during the wars, but about their efforts to rebuild their countries. "Of course, there were stories of incredible hope and strength," she continues, "but the atrocities that went on there were so horrific to hear about firsthand that I came home completely depressed. I wanted to give up music completely. I was ready to just quit it. I trained as a nurse, and I was ready to go back and get my master's and just be a nurse for the rest of my life. But then I was invited to Thailand and I felt like the elephants told me, in some way, 'You've got to continue doing music, because this is the way you're going to reach people.'"

Three years later, Sieber has found a way to draw on both the horrors of war and the beauty of life in her music. Much of it would not sound out a place in a new-age bookstore or a yoga studio; she speaks of performing as a kind of meditation, a prayer to the power of the natural world. But her work has a strength underpinning its meditative qualities, a calm centre that speaks to this artist's sure footing in her craft-- and to the lovely solidarity of the unlikely companions that are her inspiration.

 

 

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