Publicity photo by Alice Williamson
(Anteros Arts, Fye Bridge Street, Norwich. 15 March 2019. Review by Jane Mann)
London-born singer composer Ana Silvera, currently on a ten-date tour around England and Scotland, appeared at the charming recital room of the former Tudor mansion which houses the Anteros Arts Foundation in Norwich. She will be playing with various artists on this tour – on this occasion she is joined by Danish double bassist Jasper Høiby, well known on the London jazz scene for his work with the Loop Collective and for his bands Phronesis and Fellow Creatures.
She is billed as a folksinger, though her musical projects over the last few years have been wide-ranging in genre. She released her first album, the folk-tinged The Aviary in 2012. She was then commissioned by the Estonian Television Girls’ Choir, for whom she wrote a seven-part song cycle, Oracles, a live recording of which became her second album in 2018. In between she has: written the score to a ballet Cassandra performed in the Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House in 2014; collaborated with an Early Music ensemble Concerto Caledonia resulting in the CD Purcell’s Revenge in 2015; and composed soundscapes for Ice & Fire Theatre Company on a commission entitled What Do I Know? for the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival 2018. Last month she played at the Folk Alliance International Conference in Montreal, Canada.
Silvera studied voice at the Guildhall School of Music as a teenager, and literature at University College London, and music and lyrics are clearly equally important to her.
She is a diminutive but compelling figure on stage. She switches between guitar and piano and has an engaging way of introducing the tunes and talking about her work. Her singing is wonderful – precise, delicate and powerful. She uses a looper expertly to create her own backing vocals, at times providing herself with a four-voice choir.
She is accompanied throughout by Høiby who has absolutely sure intonation, and an impressively melodic way with a bass line. His jazz sensibility sits beautifully with Silvera’s rippling folky fingerpicking.
Silvera sang mostly her own material. The combination of piano (as she mentioned, a rather fine Steinway) and bass, and guitar and bass produced a surprisingly full sound, especially when the choir of Anas joined in too. Her songs are affecting – joyful and sorrowful by turn. Often serious, a repeated theme is the difficult journey towards acceptance after loss or bereavement. The arrangements were nicely varied – some sounded like new contemporary music, others impressionistic, all dappled piano and tumbling bass.
She had arranged two songs from Oracles for this tour, both of which I really liked. The first, I Grew Up In A Room, Small As A Penny is Leonard Cohen-like in both its deceptively simple melody and striking visual imagery. It is about her happiest memories, conjuring up her viewpoint as a loved child. The other, Catherine Wheels had a lyrical instrumental interlude like a miniature jazz pastoral. I would very much like to hear the full band versions of these two tunes live, as the duet versions were delightful.
The songs kept on coming, some with quite whimsical lyrics, all rhythmically interesting. I began to hear influences on Silvera’s singing style. There were echoes of Joni Mitchell in her phrasing and something of Kate Bush in the theatricality. She sang one of her favourite Kate Bush songs Cloudbusting – about Wilhelm Reich’s rain making machine – confirming that Bush is indeed an influence. Another poignant song, Greenwich Pier, about one of her favourite places in London, quite Celtic-sounding, and with a piano part like ringing bells, was originally a commission for BBC Radio Three’s Late Junction.
Here is the original Late Junction Session with Maya Youssef, Laura Moody and Silvera:
Haloes sounded to me like Early Music – Silvera’s high crystalline vocals and a beautiful sonorous bowed basso continuo from Høiby were a delight. Another jewel was La Galana I La Mar, a Sephardic wedding song from the 1600s sung in Ladino. In January Silvera played Ladino songs with cellist Francesca Ter-Berg at the Copenhagen Jewish Film Festival, and she and Høiby are planning a whole album of Sephardic songs later on this year.
The powerful Mulberry Moon was about Chilean folk singer Victor Jara who was tortured and killed by Pinochet’s men in 1973. Silvera sounded remarkably like Joan Baez, and there were more ringing bells in the arrangement, from the bass this time.
Pont Mirabeau, with a refrain adapted from French poet Apollinaire’s poem of the same name, also had something of the ’70s singer-songwriter about it. Silvera told us that a woman in a café in Paris handed her the poem written on a piece of paper to cheer her up, which inspired her.
“Sous le Pont Mirabeau coule la Seine… la joie venait toujours après la peine.”
[The Seine flows under Mirabeau Bridge… pain was always followed by joy]
Silvera finished the show with Hometown, from The Aviary. She encouraged the audience to hum the chorus, as background to Høiby’s beautiful nimble bass and her delicate vocals. And we did.
Ana Silvera – voice, piano, guitar, keyboard
Jasper Høiby – double bass, voice
Queen Of Swords
Sink Or Swim
I Grew Up In A Room, Small As A Penny..
La Galana I La Mar (Trad.)
Cloudbusting (by Kate Bush)
UK TOUR DATES IN MARCH:
20 March – The Met, Bury
21 March – Barnoldswick Arts Centre
22 March – Edinburgh House Concert (email rebecca [at] bpa-live.com for booking info)
23 March – The Glad Café, Glasgow
27 March – Listening Room @ Old Fire Station, Oxford
29 March – The Goods Shed, Stroud
30 March – Thimblemill Library, Smethwick (nr Birmingham)