1. Horse Heart (6:06)
2. Taurokathapsia (4:52)
3. Cream Sky (6:23)
4. Spiraling (12:48)
5. Roots Growth (5:47)
6. See You in Me (7:50)
7. Ritual of Apollo & Dionysus (4:00)
8. Northern Lights (5:49)
Stelios Romaliadis – flute
Lisa Isaksson – vocals, balalaika, harp, flute (1)
David Svedmyr – mellotron, zither, bells (1)
Jennie Ståbis – vocals (1)
Fotini Kallianou – cello (1, 2, 5, 7)
Katerina Papachristou – double bass (1, 2, 7)
Fotis Siotas – viola, violin (2, 5)
Lefteris Moumtzis – vocals, acoustic guitar (3)
Alex Bolpasis – acoustic guitar (3)
Pavlos Michaelides – violin (3)
Andria Degens – vocals (4, 6)
Giorgos Varoutas – electric guitar (4)
David Jackson – saxophones (5)
Elsa Kundig – cello (5)
Nikos Fokas – Fender Rhodes piano (5)
Nikos Papanagiotou – drums (5)
Greg Haines – cello (6)
Georgia Smerou – bassoon (7)
Georgia Konstadopoulou – cor anglais, oboe (7)
The distinctively-named Lüüp (an idiosyncratic spelling of the word “loop”) is a project by flutist and composer Stelios Romaliadis, a young but very gifted artist based in Athens (Greece). Lüüp’s recording debut, Distress Signal Code (released in October 2008 on Musea Records) saw the participation of legendary ex-VDGG saxophonist David Jackson. The project’s second release, Meadow Rituals, was released in May 2011 on independent label Experimedia, but only recently came to my attention – thanks to the networking opportunities offered by the social media scene.
Unlike Distress Signal Code – which had been recorded with the input of a restricted number of musicians – Meadow Rituals involves a large cast of artists from different European countries who supply a varied, largely acoustic instrumentation ranging from strings to guitars. Some of the guest musicians, such as David Jackson, vocalist Lisa Isaksson (of Swedish outfit Lisa o Piu) and pianist Nikos Fokas, also performed on Lüüp’s debut. The album was recorded in Greece, Germany, Sweden and the UK – the home countries of the musicians involved.
While certainly progressive, both in spirit and in actual execution, Meadow Rituals is not a rock album, and traditional rock instruments only make occasional appearances. Vocals – whenever present – seamlessly blend with the other instruments so as to enhance the delicate, almost brittle nature of each piece. Though Romaliadis’s flute, as can be expected, is at the core of Lüüp’s music, each instrument contributes to the development of the compositions in its own individual way.
In opening track “Horse Heart”, vocals take centre stage: Lisa Isaksson’s pure, ethereal voice – supported by backing vocalist Jennie Ståbis and a heady mélange of mellotron, zither, balalaika and harp – tempers the dark, melancholy feel of the piece, and the deep-toned twang of Katerina Papachristou’s double bass evokes memories of Pentangle – though in a more experimental vein. Intriguing world music suggestions emerge in the riveting “Cream Sky”, where flute, acoustic guitar and violin find a perfect foil in Lefteris Moumtzis’ soothing baritone – reminiscent of Dead Can Dance’s Brendan Perry. The album’s centerpiece, however, lies in the 12-minute “Spiraling”, masterfully built around the subdued yet deeply haunting voice of Andria Degens (of British act Pantaleimon), with its timeless Celtic tinge complemented by sparse guitar, violin and flute, which mesh with the vocal line to create a magical atmosphere. Degens’ voice returns in the nearly 8-minute “See You in Me”, accompanied by Romaliadis’ flute and British composer Greg Haines’ cello in an almost avant-garde workout of austere beauty.
The remaining four tracks are all instrumental. In the solemn “Taurokathapsia” (a Greek word for the ancient Cretan ritual of bull-leaping, depicted in Minoan frescoes), the interplay of deep, resonating cello and double bass and delicate describes the scene in sonic terms, with violin injecting a stately, classical feel. Another strongly descriptive number, “Ritual of Apollo & Dionysus” conveys the dialogue between the two gods through the alternation of flute and oboe on one hand, and cor anglais and bassoon on the other; while in closer “Northern Lights” Romaliadis’ flute evokes the titular phenomenon with trills and leaps, followed by pauses of quiet. On the other hand, “Roots Growth” is the closest the album gets to a more conventional rock sound, and the only track that features drums, as well as electric piano – though there is nothing conventional about it. A folk-tinged number, with a lilting, dance-like movement, it revolves around the contrast between Romaliadis’ pastoral flute and David Jackson’s more assertive saxophone.
Clocking in at almost 54 minutes, Meadow Rituals is a well-balanced, carefully structured effort that, as hinted in the previous paragraphs, is focused on atmosphere rather than energy. While those who need the adrenalin rush provided by guitar solos or banks of keyboards will probably find it disappointing or just plain uninspiring, fans of world music, New Age, ambient and the whole ECM catalogue – as well as classical and chamber music, especially of the 20th-century variety (Debussy comes to mind) – will find a lot to appreciate. Highly recommended to those who have been intrigued by some of the music that I have reviewed in recent times (such as Janel & Anthony, Ergo and Knitting By Twilight/John Orsi), Meadow Rituals is beautiful aural and visual experience, whose stunning photography and haunting musical content will engage your mind and soothe your soul.