Sculpting new soundscapes

Ayelet Rose Gottlieb and a cappella quartet Mycale take an intertextual approach to music, combining sources as diverse as Rumi and Yehuda Amichai.

March 28, 2010 23:29
4 minute read.
Ayelet Rose Gottlieb.

gottlieb mycale 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Ayelet Rose Gottlieb has come a long way since she left Jerusalem a decade ago. But she’s coming home to roost, albeit with a wealth of academic and university-of-the-street training and experience under her belt.

Between March 30 and April 1, audiences in Binyamina (Shuni), Tel Aviv (Levontin 7) and Jerusalem (Beit Avi Chai) will have the opportunity to judge just how far Gottlieb has come when she appears with the all-female Mycale a cappella quartet with material from the foursome’s brand new eponymous release on the New York-based Tzadik label.

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The new album’s cultural and stylistic spectrum reflects both the contrasting roots of the four vocalists, and their far-ranging musical interests. The Jerusalem-born Gottlieb also grew up in the capital, where she meandered through an often – for her – frustrating education system. “My parents are not observant but, for some reason, they sent me to a religious kindergarten and later to a conservative school, which was strict and I hated it,” she recalls. “I used to get into hot debates with Orthodox people all the time. I guess some of that upbringing comes into what I do, and into Mycale.”

Then there’s Jewish American singer Basya Schechter, who hails from a very Orthodox background. Add in Argentinean-born Sofía Rei Koutsovitis, who has mixed Greek and Spanish parentage, and Moroccan-French singer-composer Malika Zarra and you get a heady mix of musical and cultural baggage and intent.

Mycale, the CD, draws on texts from a highly eclectic backdrop. There are, for instance, words by sixth century BCE Greek philosopher Heraclitus, a quote from Psalm 118, a few lines from 13th century Persian poet-mystic Rumi and a poem by Yehuda Amichai. The forthcoming shows come on the heels of a recent well-received gig at the Henry Street Settlement center in New York’s East Side – part of a multi-act program presented by Tzadik supremo John Zorn. Zorn, for the uninitiated, is one of the most prolific record producers in the global music industry, putting out literally hundreds of albums that span avant garde, so-called radical Jewish music, free improvisation and contemporary classical music. Mycale forms part of the label’s Masada Book Two series.

AFTER A decade in the Big Apple, Gottlieb is eagerly anticipating the quartet’s gigs here. “It is the first time I will be performing here with a project of mine,” she says. “It’s very exciting to have all the girls here.”

The idea for Mycale was spawned by a synergy, called Anakim, between Schechter and a guitarist named Jon Madoff – “no relation to the disgraced investor”, Gottlieb hastens to add. Zorn liked Anakim and ran with it, and, as luck would have it, Gottlieb had just completed her first Tzadik album, Mayim Rabim. “With the album just out I was in Zorn’s radar range so I was added to the new project,” Gottlieb explains. “We worked on the project, on and off, for about two years. It is very complicated music to sing, but I like doing complex things.”

After a while Zorn decided a lineup reshuffle was in order, and the music should be allowed to evolve. Madoff was dropped and the all-female a cappella team was formed and set about the charts. “I brought in Sofia [Rei Koutsovitis], who’d studied with me at NEC (New England Conservatory, in Boston) and Basya brought in Malika [Zarra].”

Gottlieb says the final lineup encompassed a wide range of musical disciplines and a wealth of cultural baggage. “Sofia does a lot of Argentinean folklore stuff and Malika fuses funk with Moroccan and other ethnic music.”

For a while, Mycale was essentially a work in progress, and there was still a long road to travel to bring the project to fruition. “We had to completely overhaul all the material. There were very few instructions about how to sing the music and we approached the score like sound sculpture, adding and joining pieces as we went along. Basya’s concept was to do a sort of treasure hunt and to look for texts, from all sorts of sources, that suited the titles that John [Zorn] had given us,” Gottlieb adds. “Sofia brought Spanish texts, Malika brought in texts in French, and one song, ‘Melekh,’ which we did in different languages – Arabic, Yiddish and all the languages we bring from our own backgrounds. It’s a sort of satirical approach to the text.”

The Mycale shows here offer Israeli audiences a rich musical and textual tapestry. Being part of the Tzadik stable is quite a feather in Gottlieb’s cap, and with a slot at this year’s Montreal Jazz Festival scheduled for July, the quartet may well run with the project, in various guises, for some time to come.

Mycale will perform at the Milestone Club at Shuni near Binyamina on March 30 at 9 p.m., at Tel Aviv’s Levontin 7 on March 31 at 8:30 p.m. and at Beit Avi Chai in Jerusalem on April 1 at 10 p.m.

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