8 members, 13 instruments: Yurodny displays their virtuosity in Letterkenny

by Sean Hillen

Such is their inimitable take on musical rhythms, it sometimes can take a while getting used to eight-member, multi-national band, Yurodny.

But then they just grab you by the lapels and knock you about until the next thing you know you’re shifting in your seat to the beat.

Or, overcome by the tempi, boogieing on the dance floor, as slim, bearded Johnny and two middle-aged lady acquaintances demonstrated Thursday night at Letterkenny’s Regional Cultural Centre.

Part of the excellent ‘Autumn Concerts’ series organized by the center’s director, Shaun Hannigan, Marty McIntyre, Jeremy Howard and other staff and volunteers, Yurodny use odd musical meters – 7, 5 and 9 for example, some even called ‘goat rhythms’ – and shape their own contemporary interpretations of classic old traditional tunes worldwide.

The Yurdodny ensemble is built on an intriguing principle – that for intelligent communication to take place between people, the language of one must be absorbed by the other. In terms of the language of music, Yurodny pursue the belief that in spite of the diversity of humanity, there is a common source language that can be recognized and understood anywhere around the globe.

No doubt they’re doing something right ‘cos they’ve been playing together for the last 10 years and had Johnny & Co. enjoying a gyrate or two, hair almost flying.

Thursday evening’s concert could best be divided into two halves, which it was timewise, but also stylistically, with the first set offering listeners a diverse set of tunes from a wide range of countries, and the second half primarily lively Balkan sounds.

Opening with ‘Miserable Hora’ from Israel, ‘hora’ being a circular dance, the band then traipsed across to Macedonia for a slow air transcribed by Hungarian composer and pianist, Béla Bartók, that Nick Roth, band leader, composer and saxophonist, discovered in a Budapest archive.

There then followed a haunting Ukrainian melody, usually performed at Easter rituals and known as ‘hayivky.’ On this, the group’s interlacing instrumentation flowered intricately, layer upon layer, as if unfolding some sort of musical mille-feuille, with the duet of Colm O’Hara on trombone and Phil Macmullan on drums producing, in my mind’s eye, images of a shadowy gaslight alleyway.

The next tune, played during Hanukkah celebrations, featured Francesco Turrisi on keyboards creating a soft, sensual, slow air, the kind that slides off your brain leaving you floating between worlds in a gravity-free atmosphere. The lively klesmer that followed stood in stark contrast, sandwiched as it was between echoing, almost pseudo-psychedelic electric guitar by Dave Redmond (who played double bass for most of the concert) and keyboard playing.

Ushering in what was to come post-break, Yurodny ended the first half with a fast-paced Balkan dance melody, double bass and violin creating the image of a train hurtling along tracks, gutsy accordion fingering by Turrisi and an almost Oriental, snake-charming waft by Roth.

The second half kicked-off with ‘Tangy Incoherence,’ a suitable platform for showcasing the prowess of Irish violinist Cora Venus Lunny, daughter of musician Dónal Lunny and German photographer Julia Buthe, who, within a matter of minutes, transformed eerie ‘squeaky door’ sounds into a sublime ‘lament’ melody, which in turn evolved into an animated musical collective as other group members joined in, particularly talented violinists Adrian Hart and Oleg Ponomarev, and an exhaustive trombone solo slipped in for good measure.

Then it was time for the musical maestros’ to move on – to Serbia this time, a song featuring an accordion intro, unaccompanied vocals and dueling trombone and sax. Armenia was up next, a tune whose slow, agonizing opening tempo reflected for me a sense of weariness, of never-ending strife and loss of meaning, characteristics that have haunted the nation through its history. So vivid were the images induced in me, I immediately thought – rightly or wrongly – of the terrible genocidal attacks carried out by the Ottoman Empire in 1915 in which an estimated 1.5 million Armenians died, a horrific historical episode dubbed “the first genocide of the twentieth century.”

Yurodny ended their gig with a galloping Serbian tune in ‘44groove,’ which led to a frenetic finale and a standing ovation by an appreciative audience.

Yurodny at RCC, live music Letterkenny

Yurodny deliver their own unique take on a diversity of folkloric music worldwide.Photo by Columbia Hillen

So, eight musicians, 13 instruments, three of which were violins, hard to beat such melodic diversity spanning the folkloric world of Europe, and beyond. Captivating rhythms that had Johnny & Co on their feet enjoying moments of moveable magic.

Next up – this evening (Saturday) – at the Regional Cultural Centre is Appalachian singer, Eiizabeth Laprelle, and Anna Gevalt-Roberts, a talented multi-instrumentalist and singer. Hurry along!

Starting November 7 until mid-December, a special photo exhibit at the RCC reflects the work of Steve Anderson, an American photographer born in 1949 and raised on a small family farm outside DeKalb, Illinois. Growing up immersed in the farm work ethic, he became an exceptionally prolific artist producing a diversity imagery. Influenced by movements such as Surrealism and Pittura Metafisica, Anderson’s photographs touch on themes of memory, landscape, dreams, randomness and hidden worlds and explore the passage of time, joy, sorrow and the cycles of life: birth, growth and death.

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