REVIEW
Words: Dominic Valvona
Images: Luis Mileo



Lina_Raül Refree ‘S/T’
(Glitterbeat Records) LP/17th January 2020

Stripped bare and rebuilt from the foundations up, the congruous and accentuate sonic and voice union of the striking siren simply known as Lina and Raül Refree subtly revive the often sullen and forlorn Portuguese tradition of ‘fado’. Working together for the first time, this collaborative partnership transforms a classic songbook of material made famous by the queen of fado, Amália Rodrigues, whilst keeping an essence of that folkloric style’s veneration and plaintive pull.

Continuing with a fresh formula that in the last few years has worked wonders for his collaborations with Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo and the “incendiary” flamenco artist Rosalia, and created an experimental sonic mirage out of the on and off set atmosphere of Isaki Lacuesta’s flamenco exploration ‘Entre dos Agua’, Refree transports that tradition beyond its origins into an abstract soundscape that could evoke French Chanson as much as the Kosmische, and even the soundtrack work of Angelo Badalamenti. Not so much a sacrilege as a move away from past constrictions the multi talented musician/producer puts a contemporary spin on the indigenous musical form by removing the synonymous acoustic guitar accompaniment for a nuanced atmosphere of augmented, reverent and ambient analogue synthesizer and neoclassical piano.

Enervated circular metallic, vaporous mists and centrifugal forces envelope, caress or appear like distant murmurings, layered beneath Lina’s diaphanous and starkly sonorous vocals; taking the determined and soulful kernel of fado into some gauze-y, ominous and alien dimensions. Channeling the spirit of chanteuse and actress Amália Rodrigues – who did more than anyone to spread fado beyond the borders of Portugal – Lina’s adroit refashioning of the late performer’s repertoire plays centre stage on this experimentally minimalist LP.





A scion of fado, Lina inherited an interest in the style at the age of fifthteen. Broadening horizons, the burgeoning enchantress also studied opera; the barest, although highly impressive, opening up of those scales can be heard at key punctuated moments throughout. Building a reputation for her haunted interpretations and range, Lina has performed as a regular at the venerated Clube de Fado in Lisbon. Venturing into new uncharted soundscapes, Lina invited Refree in to apply a more liberal contemporary, even mysterious, production.

The dynamics of these two artists works in part because of Refree’s lack of investment or adherence to fado’s signatures and history. Relatively unburdened by its weighty worthiness, though no less respectful, these classical lamentable yearns and ballads open out into magical realism, the dreamy and the esoteric. On the echoed ‘Sta Luzia’ Lina sounds like a Portuguese transmogrification of Marianne Faithfull singing the ‘Ballad Of Lucy Jordan’, and on the rising torrid haunted sea omen ‘Gaivota’ you can hear touches of Diamanda Galas.

The beauty of morose and tragedy is explored with a synthesized and reconstructive intimacy that loses none of fado’s naturalistic and guttural heartbroken fragility. Refree’s production proves complimentary if subtly transformative; underpinning and accentuating the power and stark brilliance of Lina’s stirring performances without infringing upon the sensitivity or meaning.

Bellowed, ghostly, sensual, soothed and melodic: this album is all of these. Yet it is also sparse and stripped, almost to just the faintest of renderings with Refree’s presence at times almost recorded from beyond the ether. Fado’s legacy is in good hands as it lingers on into a new decade with a contemporary purpose.

Dominic Valvona





 

Album Review/Dominic Valvona





Refree ‘La Otra Mitad’ (tak:til/Glitterbeat Records) 7th December 2018


Recording in the field, catching both on-set and off the dialogue, conversations and even the spontaneous warbling song of a child, the lion’s share of the material on the renowned Spanish producer and film music composer (also solo artist in his own right) Raül Refree’s La Otra Mitad album was created for film director Isaki Lacuesta’s movie exploration of Flamenco, Entre dos Aguas.

Capturing both the essence and environment of the movie’s San Fernando location, and spirit of the non-professional cast, Refree’s often-reflective compositions and sketches represent his unique approach to conveying the abstract and visceral.

Representing at times what I, with my admitted ignorance of the form, recognize as the toiled, yearning and sometimes diaphanous flourishes of the highly-skilled Flamenco tradition, Refree performs the odd deft solitary passage but mostly reconfigures this signature Spanish style, remodeling it into an amorphous soundscape, or reversing it through a vacuum of suspense – ‘Dar a luz (Mix 1)’, which when translated into English means ‘giving birth’, and so makes sense as the sensation sounds like someone being rushed backwards out of a womb-like tunnel of both radiance and trepidation. Tracks such as ‘Barbacoa’ are literal, the composer recording the mood and conversation of the film crew and actors in their downtime at a barbecue; the results of which when edited in Refree’s in-situ studio sound intimate, yet like an ambient mirage. But sometimes the voices are in song, the Flamenco singers Rocio Márquez, Niño de Elche and Pilar Villa find their sonorous wails, lulls and beautifully expressed vocals sampled and turned into the ghostly and transported. Though the brighter, in praise, and less transformed ‘Cuando Salga El Sol (When The Sun Rises)’ is left to work its delightful Flamenco magic.

Lacuesta had in mind the relationship enjoyed by Neil Young and Jim Jarmusch on the collaborative score for the movie Dead Man, when approaching Refree. And in some way there is a semblance of that process; Refree pushing traditional sources into contemporary directions, his eclectic CV, which includes both co-producing and collaborating with Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo (Electric Trim), and Spanish enigmas Silva Pérez Cruz and Rosalía, channeled through an experimental traverse of ideas; from the picturesque to tragic, fleeting to sobering.

Originally earmarked for a two-volume duo of instrumental-leaning 10” solo EPs, La Otra Mitad couples what was two separate envisaged projects together on one album. Volume Two, the soundtrack, I’ve already discussed; Volume One however is a different, but concomitant, proposition. Named after the guitars it was performed on, Jai Alai Vol 01 (as it was titled) featured a series of reflective pining, waning and timeless solo guitar compositions. The LGO played (is that even a guitar?) track features Flamenco gestures and resonating echoes of Ry Cooder country, but also, on the second of the ‘LGO’ performances, a hint of the Middle East permeates an intense to wound-down, heavy to light, ratcheted spring folksy rhythm. The moiety of ‘Ramírez’ experiments feature a plucked, harmonics twanging nuanced guided hand; both sounding classical and sad but transcending subtly their time and place.

An amorphous, removed album of guitar articulations, moods, location and voice that somehow seems simultaneously tethered to Spain yet peculiarly outside of it. An experiment in reification and the aleatory, capturing the essence but also transient, Refree creates an unusual aural experience that’s difficult to categorize; neither avant-garde nor world music as such, nor is it in the perimeters of rock, it is instead a most unique collection.




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