Leléka & Maksym Berezhniuk: ‘Rizdvo’
(GLM /Fine Music FM 362-2, review by Frank Graham)
To read more about the background to the music of up-and-coming Berlin-based quartet Leléka I’d heartily recommend both the fine review of the group’s 2022 album Sonce u Serci (“sun in the heart”) by our recently departed Alison Bentley, and LJN’s interview with the group’s Ukranian singer Viktoria Leléka from June 2022 (LINKS BELOW).
More than 12 months on and they’re back with a new album, and as Ukraine accelerates towards a second winter of war and occupation it seems entirely fitting that Rizdvo (meaning “Christmas” in Ukrainaian) should be a joyously defiant celebration of the ‘living traditions” of Ukrainian Christmas music.
Augmenting the group’s established line-up of Viktoria Leléka (voice), Povel Widestrand (piano), Thomas Kolarczyk (bass) and Jakob Hegner (drums) is Ukranian multi-woodwind player and vocalist Maksym Berezhniuk. His collection of traditional instruments is said to exceed 100, and on this recording alone he plays the Sopilka, Dentsivka, Okaryna, Telynka, Panpipe, Drymba (mouth harp), Floyara, Duduk, Horn, Saxonet and Duda. Completely at ease with the group’s folk-jazz sensibilities, Berezhniuk revels in the improvisational to and fro, and whether channeling Slavic, Scandinavian or Celtic folk musics – all share a distant Viking ancestry – he’s the perfect fit.
The chemistry is immediately evident on opening track “Raduisia”, its plaintive Scandi folk melody broken by a daring rhythmic bridge redolent of Avishai Cohen’s seminal trio or Jasper Høiby’s Phronesis. Widestrand’s pithy solo an object lesson in succinctness, and he consistently catches the ear. Echoes of the new Celtic folk of Karen Matheson and Donald Shaw surface on the lilting ballad “Bil” (VIDEO BELOW) , Leléka‘s crystalline voice treading that fine line between vulnerability and strength. “Basova Peregra” is a wonderfully Haden-esque bass interlude, while “Sviatkova Telynka”, another short instrumental, reminds me of the desolate windswept beauty of Jan Garbarek’s Dis.
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Elsewhere the infectious joy of “Oi v Lisku” is counterbalanced by the solemnity of “Oi u Kyievi” (“Oh, in Kyiv”), its emotional heft so apt in this time of war. “Yvanova Maty” meanwhile finds Berezhniuk and Leléka trading verses over a mournful military tattoo, and its performative style draws on Leléka’s theatrical roots. If the dreamlike “Sviat Vechir” (“Holy Evening”) is the most ambitious arrangement of the set then the collective chants and sparse mouth harp accompaniment of “Drymbova Spivanka” is surely the most surprising, while the introspective balladry of the closing “Lesyna Kolyskova” is a poignant reminder that for Ukraine this is likely to be a harsh winter.
A Christmas album like no other, and if there’s a common thematic thread linking Rizdvo to Sonce u Serci it’s surely the notion that hope and despair can co-exist. I’m left with an abiding feeling that Ukraine’s proud culture will survive no matter what, and in Viktoria Leléka it has a remarkable champion.
Rizdvo will be released on CD and all major streaming platforms on 24 November, and the album launch will be supported by a German tour in December. (Berlin UFA Fabrik 18 Dec)