Minco Eggersman: Kavkasia

Kavkasia came into being when Amsterdam-based composer Minco Eggersman and his wife undertook a road trip to Georgia (‘Kavkasia' is Georgian for ‘Caucasus'). An album-length ode to the region, it's a cinematic and stylistically diverse suite featuring everything from vocal-based folk songs and neo-classical settings to ECM-styled jazz. Eggersman's credited with vocals, guitar, harmonium, accordion, synthesizer, and sampler, but others also appear: cellist Svante Henryson, violinist Oene van Geel, saxophonist Paul van der Feen, organist Jonas Nyström (whose parts were recorded at a church in Sweden), bassist Audun Erlien, vocalist Bidzina Buba Murgulia (of the Iberi Choir), and the Macedonian Radio Symphonic Orchestra's strings. Field recordings also thread their way into the mix, with sounds of people, nature, bells, and birds surfacing at different times. Interestingly, though the composer's a drummer by trade, none appear on Kavkasia, the choice reflecting Eggersman's desire to emphasize the misty and expansive properties of the music.

Contrasts abound from one track to the next. Inaugurating the release with a stirring horns-only chorale, “The Black Sea” conveys the quiet majesty of the Caucasian mountains and the composer's humble appreciation of its beauty, while the similarly arranged “Home of the Brave,” in keeping with its title, exudes the proud formality of a state anthem. One of the more memorable pieces, the arresting folk setting “Dance” alternates between brooding verses and uplifting choruses with the unadorned vocal (Eggersman himself, presumably) augmented by violin, acoustic guitar, and luscious horn textures. In contrast to the lyrics-based presentation of the singing on “Dance,” Murgulia's murmur is used for atmospheric effect in “Deda Ena” whereas “Melisma & Gurian” casts the vocalist in a livelier and more playful light. Elsewhere, a rustic folk dimension pervades “The Crossing Place” when the bowed strings of Henryson and van Geel are joined by the soothing string textures of the orchestra.

It's well-nigh impossible to listen to “Holy Ground” without hearing Jan Garbarek in the saxophone playing, the Norwegian musician's influence so strong it verges on distraction; luckily for Eggersman, the combination of hymnal balladry and organ-based stateliness enables the Garbarek factor to be pushed aside and the music appreciated for the quality material it is. If that piece calls Garbarek to mind, “Stepantsminda” does something a little bit the same in suggesting Eleni Karaindrou in its Eastern European flavour, even if the connection recedes when the majestic chords of Nyström's church organ take over. The album's coup de grace arrives at album's end in the form of “Tbilisi Calls,” an eleven-minute mini-epic that follows tolling bells with a resplendent, restlessly mutating travelogue Eggersman assembled using piano, strings, organ, and saxophone.

While on the one hand such track-by-track diversity generally works in the album's favour, it can also make Kavkasia feel at times like a compilation featuring works by different artists than a cohesive statement by one only. That being said, there's no denying the beauty of much of the material. Kavkasia, in line with recent work Eggersman has done producing film and documentary soundtracks, certainly plays like something designed to accompany a documentary portrait of the Georgian region, and, as both portrait and homage, the recording leaves little doubt as to the reverence and affection the composer feels for the area.

June 2017