Album review: Saz’iso – At Least Wave Your Handkerchief at Me: The Joys and Sorrows of Southern Albanian Song [Glitterbeat Records, 13th October 2017]

With At Least Wave Your Handkerchief at Me, Southern Albanian traditional ensemble Saz’iso will instantly make you feel homesick, regardless of the place you hail from. It is mature, honest and elegantly countrified.

Hidden in the mountains of Southern Albania, ‘Saze’ is a heartfelt musical tradition, often present at funerals, weddings and other town celebrations. It is not a mere trifling coincidence that Saz’iso evoke irresistible reminiscences of other neighbouring countries’ musical folklore, such as Greek composer Stavros Xarchakos, or Kurdish singer Aynur Dogan. Also, the subtle streams of strings (Aurel Qirjo) and flute (Pellumb Meta) could not sound more Arabesque. Yet, there is a visible Balkan (as we know it) touch to it in the rhythm and melodies sketched by Agron Nasi on the frame drum.

Pink Floyd producer Joe Boyd, alongside Edit Paula and Andrea Goertler, came together with Jerry Boys (Buena Vista Social Club or Ali Farka Touré) to make a splendid portrait of what this eight-musician veteran band are able to create.

Over the background of its simple chords intertwines Saz’iso’s marvellous and skilful array of voices. The deep and powerful Donika Pecallari and warm and delicate Adrianna Thanou paint a vocally elaborate landscape in which each in turn takes the role of a second ‘cutter’ to the other’s ‘lead taker’, a process which is so common in iso-polyphonic compositions.

Like an aged wine, or a slowly-cooked stew or homemade rustic bread, this album is an everyday-life experience, a vivid expression of joy, sorrow, heroism and tragedy.

Towards the middle of this journey, intensity grows with gems like “Bëje Dru Në Përcëllime”, a song typical of the area of Tepelenë, which tells the story of a girl in love chopping wood on a winter’s day, or “Avaz”, a spontaneous improvisation where the folk flute flows gracefully.

Saz’iso’s sound is real roots, an open window into this genuine crossroads of historical music traditions, a mesmerizing soundtrack for a road trip across the untapped mountains of Southern Albania.