Almalé’s Hixa Mía

cover art for Hixa Mía Pilar Almalé is a multi-faceted artist from Spain whose main focus is on early music, for which she plays the Renaissance instrument viola da gamba, a cello-sized instrument that has more strings and is played between the knees. But she also has studied and played folk, world music and jazz in a variety of settings from Bolivia to India. She has toured with Galician piper Carlos Núñez and played classical repertoire with gambist Jordi Savall. She’s also a singer, a teacher, and visual artist. In 2021 she was named viola da gamba soloist for the Mediterranean Chamber Orchestra.

This project named Almalé is but one of three she’s actively pursuing these days, and she views it as her most personal. It involves French violinist Thomas Kretzschmar, who specializes in jazz improvisation, Ernesto Cossío, a guitarist with a flamenco and folk training, and Fran Gozol, a jazz percussionist. Along with Pilar on viola da gamba and vocals, they perform a fusion of folk and world music with medieval, Renaissance and baroque roots but influences from jazz and folk.

It’s a lovely album with a strong Mediterranean vibe, alternately sunny and melancholy – and sometimes both at once. It’s a sound based in ancient music – medieval, Renaissance and baroque – but with a host of modern influences, all kept close to their roots. No pernicious dancehall beats creep in here.

Pilar Almalé has a gorgeous, plaintive voice and she uses it to great effect on the songs here, especially the bookends. The opening track, the title cut “Hixa Mía,” is a simple tune built on a stately Renaissance dance beat, opening with just her voice and a droning bass note, later joined by guitar and a frame drum as well as accents from Pilar’s viola. The lyrics aren’t provided, but it sounds like a sad love song. This minor key tune has been stuck in my head for days on end now.

The closer is titled “Los Guisados de la Berenjena,” which translates as “eggplant stews.” It’s a very Mediterranean folk song about food, wine and other happy topics and it’s very appealing all around, from Pilar’s sexy vocals to the intricate dance beat and interwoven instrumental lines. She closes the set with an energetic, rock-influenced solo on her viola da gamba.

In between are mostly slow songs and tunes. “Passacaille” is just what it sounds like, an instrumental passacaglia, a slow Renaissance dance in three beats. This one features mainly the viola da gamba and violin, with minimal percussion and a lovely Spanish guitar solo near the end. “Blue Lamento,” an instrumental in a slow waltz time, starts very low-keyu and melancholy and ratchets up the emotion as it goes. This one has a lovely arrangement with intricate interplay among all four musicians on viola da gamba, violin, guitar and percussion; Pilar plays a strong baroque style solo, followed by a Grappelli-esque violin solo from Kretszchmar. “A la una yo nací” is an emotive love song with strong flamenco feel, in a tricky time signature that alternates between five and six beats. “La Patėtica,” classical and folk styles and features long rubato improvisations by Pilar. And “Flow my tears,” which she sings in English, sees her plucking her instrument like a double bass accompanied by Kretszchmar’s lightly jazzy piano stylings.

For variety, “Folias Gallegas” has a strong Celtic feel, which is apt since its title translates as “Galician Follies.” It’s a fast dance in six with a short rubato solo section from Pilar.

That’s it, it’s in and out quickly in eight tracks, but it packs a big emotional wallop. Pilar’s singing and playing both soar and plunge to the depths with appropriate emotion, and in this quartet she has a perfect group of collaborators. Hixa Mía is such a warm blend of Mediterranean sound and color, deftly interweaving modern and influences into an organic whole. Highly recommended.

(Microscopi, 2022)

Gary Whitehouse

Gary has been reviewing music, books and more at the Green Man Review since sometime in the previous Millennium. He lives in a mostly hipster-free part of Oregon, where he enjoys dogs, books, music, the outdoors, and craft beer, cider, and coffee.

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