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Inventive, daring and impeccably executed and recorded, Shamania, by New York-born Danish percussionist, drummer and composer Marilyn Mazur, is an invitation to a musical tightrope walk. Don’t look down, just open your ears and go. Not everything works, but by the time you get to the other side you’ll know that you have been somewhere.
While most likely known by audiences in the United States for her work with Miles Davis, Gil Evans, Wayne Shorter and Jan Garbarek, Mazur has long been an adventurous composer and performer. Shamania, an all-female 11-piece ensemble/musical-theater project featuring 10 musicians and a dancer, is an update of Primi Band, Mazur’s musical-theater group in the 1980s.
It’s hard to tell how much of the music, mostly by Mazur, is predetermined and how much is improvised, which speaks well of both. The pieces flow with a storyteller’s logic rather than following established music forms, and her use of the ensemble is shrewd, as she deftly manages orchestral densities, combinations and dynamics.
The opening “New Secret” sets the tone, beginning with delicate, translucent textures that turn into a driving pulse with a vocal melody supported by the horns. And then, just as it all materialized, it vanishes.
Throughout, the music is peppered with global references. The opening of “Rytmeritual” evokes Indonesian gamelan music. “Kalimbaprimis” nods to minimalist composer Steve Reich while drawing from African thumb piano patterns. The careening, harmonized vocals in “Crawl Out & Shine” suggest at times a Hermeto Pascoal melody arranged by Sergio Mendes, while “Heartshaped Moon” flirts with a Cuban guaracha-mambo groove, of all things. Hey, there’s no rule against having fun on a tightrope. — Fernando Gonzalez