Introductory Story. A ‘concept’ album of the highest degree!! ‘Abracadabra’ This magical journey begins with a “Hang” drum, a curious musical instrument of unidentified object proportions!! It has an interesting and beautiful timbre however, and not a million miles away from a normal steel drum sound. It’s definitely a ‘speciality’ musician’s possession, and that is certainly reflected in the cost of buying one, and I can understand the concept of basing a whole album around it. Fascinating stuff!! The hang-drum also has centre stage within the album artwork, where it has taken flight as a hot-air-balloon, in deep claret with spindly strings barely holding it up, and in contrast with the fact that no person is riding it. Weighty and weightless at the same time.
Milana has favoured the ‘full scale’ hang-drum to have more notes at her disposal whilst composing, and by incredible coincidence, the seller was from her beloved country, Ukraine!! It was Milana’s husbands idea, ( Arty as she affectionately calls him) to combine the hang-drum with her stunning piano playing, alongside the haunting and cinematic vocals of Alexa Ray, and the divine cello playing of Yoed Nir (a Yamaha artist). Whatever it took to achieve the highest and best results. So, without further ado, lets listen to track one!!
Track 1. “Time” Ok, it’s time to break the routine and start the journey, a journey to find a ‘magical existence’ that lies behind a mirror in an enchanted land. Enter the hang-drum in an alberti bass figurine, followed by an eerie piano sequence that feels very restless to me, like something uncertain is coming. Milana moves up and down in perfect 5ths, laying down a bass for some cello. A cello that holds long singular strokes that perfectly blend with Alexa Ray’s luminous wailing, a voice to behold indeed. The minor tonality sets the scene as hang-drum and cello weave their magical tentacles around each other, like the branches reaching out into the blue blackness of the amazing artwork by Anastasia Frenkel. Milana’s pensive octave playing has furrowed my brow, the drum is hanging on for dear life, whilst a gentle percussion from Phil DiMercurio trys desperately to calm everyone’s mood. A dramatic crescendo from all the artists has my hair standing on end!! I’m loving the gritty and choppy scratching from Yoed on the cello, agitated in a resin smoke. In other spaces it sings with a beautiful vibrato and perfect intonation, something not always the case in string playing. As we head to the Coda, Phil’s military snare marches everybody on, supported by a human vocal-tic (Milana’s voice) They know their destination!!!
Track 2. “Journey” It begins!! A journey down a yellow brick road yet not to Oz, where does it lead to?? Delicate Autumn red butterflies spur them on, with antennae directing the way. In a mysterious pulsation, the hang-drum moans in a minor tonality, alone. Then a flash of gold as Milana reverbs on bright piano, brilliantly, communicating with a silvery cymbal. Beautifully, Alexa sings on a distorted vowel, projecting like Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, with undulating tonal colours. The music progresses with clear direction as distant claves and cello share the space. The bright piano has a meaty texture, as it partners with Alexa’s longer and more urgent singing, the terrain becomes choppy, but only to introduce the final words of the hang-drum, it has the last word.
Track 3. “Abracadabra” The title track. The word has been spoken!! “Abracadabra” Everyone’s running!!......waiting for the rabbit to come out of the hat!! There’s much musical momentum here. A driving force. Milana’s pianistic ability here is truly astounding, a virtuoso at the top of the tree. All at great speed!! The cello grumbles with a Michael Nyman persistence and intensity. Suddenly, a wand is waved, and out of nowhere comes strings in ‘portamente’, just stunning! This recording is in a class of it’s own. Amazing musicianship from the whole team, carrying us along this journey. Alexa demonically harmonises. Milana then shines on the piano with fugal style passage work in the bass, “get out of my way” she cries!! Phil shares a moment with the hang-drum but it is short lived as the impatient wand waves again. ‘Abracadabra’ Just brilliant!!
Track 4. “Behind The Mirror” A metronomic hang-drum, momentarily alone, but wait……a somewhat discordant piano interrupts, as a pensive cello looks on. The mirror in all it’s tangled glory slowly rotates for all to see. Milana dazzles in silver flourishes on piano, clear, bright and extremely dexterous. A conversational vocal harmony announces it’s presence, in an eerie veil, terrified at the sight of ‘dragonesque’ cellos that appear to be dripping upwards…..how is that even possible???? The standard of musicianship on this album is totally mind blowing, what a team Matthew Shell has put together, he is creative consultant at the top of his game!!! The hang-drum once again whispers, in all it’s curiosity, but never alone for long, as a Milana cradles in her arms, a piano exit of ultra high resonance, showing us what a piano is actually built from, dampened in a wooded felt. I fear the challenge to come!!
Track 5. “Challenge” As the hang-drum and percussion tickle each other, the cello moans it’s weary way again, not feeling quite so sure about things. What is the challenge I ask myself??.....as Milana flashes light around the piano for all to see. I sense the vowel on which Alexa sings is saying “why do we have to have this challenge?.....I can’t think straight and these angry branches are scaring me!!” Milana however, is thinking straight as she enjoys herself for a moment, indulging in some contemporary jazz chords. Milana’s piano style very much reminds me of Zoe Rhaman who I’ve actually seen live in the town where I live. Cello and hang-drum are in call-and-response mode, while the piano punctuates her staccato at them as if to say “shut up!” What I love most about this piece is the way it ends……in shimmering harmonics.
Track 6. “Imminence” We will get there, but what will we face? I sense they will be empowered to change the world!! ……leaving this world to find an enchanted land of mythical and magical creatures! The mirror of gnarly wood reveals the imminence! I must just say at this point that Milana’s talented husband Arty has been just as prolific within this incredible project, and that he has encouraged her to the utmost liberation of the creative arts. Brilliant Arty!! Our hang-drum presents an almost Latino rhythm and how lovely to hear some of it’s higher notes, very beautiful indeed, they resonate for us all. Yoed still strong on cello, and Milana her usual dazzling self on piano, and Alexa has been very busy. I have it on good authority that it took Milana hours and hours of practise to prepare the ‘runs’ etc, on average 2 to 3 days practise at 3 to 4 hours each!! Finally taking a whole month!!.....same for Hang-drum lines. The imminence is dancing a Tango with it’s tight dotted rhythm in tow, everyone is feeling tense, their muscles hold on for dear life saying “when can we dance a slow waltz??” Milana’s breadth of piano style is staggering, you should hear this jazz solo take off, just like the lofty heights of the claret hot air balloon. Such mastery. Well I never, a closing cadenza on hang-drum is just divine. Best I’ve heard yet. Bravo hang-drum.
Track 7. “Encounters” I have a feeling this track is going to do really well!! Jazz award coming very soon????? Ooooh, succulence in the art of 5 time, beginning and end!! Time for Milana’s jazzy vocals to shine, as she scats her way through this amazing track. I’ve been waiting for this all along. How she sings like this and plays the piano at the same time is beyond me!! I’ve decided she has much too much talent and should be shot at dawn!!!!! Hang-drum and piano share equal musical space, communicating with each other. Am loving the vowels Milana sings on, they really suit this track. I think she’s calling to the magical, mythical beings she so wants to meet, even though she’s scared to do so. Those ‘dragonesque cellos’ certainly scare me, are they on her side or not I ask myself?? There’s the ‘portamente’ strings again, complimenting Milana’s perfect vocal intonation, her quality of tone is sublime. Very impressive indeed. The yellow brick road sure led her somewhere sweet.
Track 8. “Lost and Found” This track is in conflict with itself. Reflective is the mood, they have found some things, or beings, or indeed creatures but these treasures are kept secret from us. But of course “where is the life they left behind?”…do they even want it back?? As soon as this track started to play, my daughter said “mum, I thought that was Amy Lee for a moment”…..such is the classical slant here. Rich, cantabile tone, the piano is weeping. Clever key changes surprise me but in the best possible way. Bright and shiny piano octaves take the tune whilst everyone plays around with the rhythms of 3 against 4 time, brilliantly done!! Alexa sings in chromaticism, sliding past microtones effortlessly. Suddenly, stabs in the stomach of time, repeatedly, hurting me, “stop” I cry!! Am loving the octaves in unison vocally…….what a job Erik Fredriksen and Steven Vagovics have done with the mixing and mastering here, just amazing!!
Track 9. “Enchantment” There’s a definite sense of happiness in this track compared to the others on this album, with episodes in major keys, a lovely treat! The Autumn red butterflies sing their sweet song. Loving how in the intro the hang-drum plays around with a simple four-four time signature, even it feels happy!! Gentle percussion strokes the mood. Some wonderful layering of Milana’s vocals here, harmonies to die for. Milana and Phil have soothing conversations, perfectly aligned with one another. The lilting feel of this piece is often interrupted by staccato shaped phrases, which are so welcome. The spiky cellos are having a ball! Fascinated by Milana’s ability to use her lower vocal range, very interesting. So far I think everyone is quite taken by the magical creations they finally set eyes on……but how long will it last?
Track 10. “Spirito Incantato” Somehow, the enchanted spirit must come to life! The hang-drum taps in a morse-code as they try to conjure up the spirit. I feel an ‘abracadabra’ in the air. A dark piano mutters it’s own words of incantation, ending in a shimmering cymbalesque light. The rhythm here is quite striking……imagine 8 quavers in a row, now put an accent on quaver 4, this is the measure of the metre. The cello sings very high, like it could almost be a viola playing, the tone quality is beautiful. Magical modulations occur while Milana whispers a repeated chant, summoning the spirit to life. It slowly musters all that has been dormant in this enchanted land. I feel a cool breath brush past my shoulders, as Alexa and Yoed wave another portamente wand. Tom-toms bring a forward energy, encouraging the chanting whispers, will the spirit reply.
Track 11. “Witchcraft” The process becomes bewitched and all involved hope they can summon her from the mountainesque terrain that lies at the end of the rocky road. Herein lies a ‘triptych’ middle piece, part of a whole, and a magical influence!! Discordant piano flourishes beg the enchanted spirit to life, come on we need this witchcraft!! A gritty cello makes it’s presence known, they are up against each other. A dotted and staccato rhythm trips on it’s way and repeats stubbornly. Chromatic vocals of Halloween birth, struggle with intensive percussive orchestration, while the hang-drum fights to be heard. The mood is rising. Suddenly, and commanding, a rumble-in-the-jungle runs with urgency, chasing Milana’s demonly harmonisations. Hang-drum gets caught up and swept away by PdubJamz in a frenzy, strong and varied…….a coda is trying to form itself, but is beaten by a fugal stretto of great intensity!!
Track 12. “Alchemy” What is this sorcery!! This seemingly magical process of transformation, with the midas-touch. Shrouded in mystery and secrecy, Milana shows her low vocal darkness. Incarnate harmonies, alone and dry, the other folk stand still and look on as the potent noises raise higher and higher, playing with irregular time. This woman of tribal matter chants her secret code, she is indeed, a WITCH!!
Track 13. “Returning” It’s time!! Time to turn around and walk back down the long and winding road, past the jade green grass, well trodden. The mirror rotates to guide the way but there’s a heavy feeling that can’t escape. An exhaustion permeates the air, and I sense melancholia. A sorrowful alberti-bass meanders along and includes one of my favourite chords…..the diminished 7th, and a very good choice for this mood. A solemn but beautiful melody in octaves bleeds my heart again, as a heartfelt vocal gently speaks to us. Alberti still moves in a lower region whilst Milana’s mournful piano sings a sad song. Ah!!! Some major ruffles of distant jazz catch me by surprise, wrapped in nostalgia and sunshine, the flower of melody opens and closes. Milana’s defined right hand ‘octave’ playing is very self assured, enabling her to communicate this awesome music to us all. I sense some ‘longing’ within myself as I listen intently, and I am not to be disappointed!!.......a gorgeous Tierce de Picardie embraces me completely and my gratification is satisfied!! “A B R A C A D A B R A “ END
Thank you so much Milana and your brilliant musical colleagues for allowing me to travel with you on this incredible journey, and it has taught me a lot about music and what a HANG-DRUM really is, and the profound creativity it can generate. Genius. The team. Milana Zilnik Arty Sandler Alexa Ray Yoed Nir Phil DiMercurio Erik Fredriksen Steven Vagovics Matthew Shell Anastasia Frenkel