Review: Love’s Dream – Max Reif for Glow International (Click here for text version)
The Persian poets, Rumi and Hafiz, have caught the imagination of the western world. In the past few years there have been translations, renderings and versions. Now Gabriella Tal and Mark Malachi have put some of the poets’ verses in song. While Gabriella provides the vocals, Mark plays a wide range of musical instruments and breathes a magical quality into these meaningful songs of love and longing for the Beloved. Within the collection, the artists have included a few verses by Bhau Kalchuri. Rumi’s poems are a manual for seekers of God. “Loving God is the only pleasure” says Rumi, and Gabriella’s songs and Mark’s musical talents give the words a lyrical cadence. The CD and cassette can be ordered from the artists.
Gabriella Tal is one gutsy woman. Wheelchair-bound (in body only), with little financial backing, she was determined to approach a musical feat that might well terrify the most accomplished Baba-lover musicians. Gabriella was driven to put to music the moving poetry (mostly in ghazal form) of Bhau Kalchuri.
To aficionados of the burgeoning musical creativity dedicated to Avatar Meher Baba, Gabriella Tal is no stranger. Two previous Baba albums–So Close (cassette) and Graceful and Magnificent (a recent CD) feature primarily original songs and music that are lyrically enchanting and especially vibrant in the use of richly varied arrangements and orchestration. But Happiness is Better is even more wildly ambitious and I think remarkably successful.
As a non-musician, even this reviewer can appreciate the challenge of integrating the non-rhyming, non-Western, irregular meters and irregular phrasing of the ghazal form into pleasing and credible songs. Gabriella resists the temptation to compromise either by taking liberties with the lyrics or by using abstract oratorio-type approaches. Every track is a real song, with delightful melodies, harmonies, and rhythms. Almost every syllable is married to a note. Articulation is wonderful—we can understand every word.
Don’t think this is a monochromatic work. Gabriella’s compositions explore individualized melodic and stylistic versions of each ghazal. Remarkably, each song is satisfyingly accessible to the Western ear. For example, try not to sing along with Gabriella on Track 5 (Stay Away from Love) or hum the gorgeous melodic refrain on Track 9 (The Pearl) delivered by an inspired Lisa Nelson. Other listeners will be taken with the treatment of My Beautiful Message, artistically delivered by Karina Miller’s vocal and Michael Kovitz’ lush guitar (Track 13).
Extraordinarily, if you didn’t know better, you’d think that all the tracks were original songs, perhaps even songs in which the melodies came first with lyrics built to fit the music, not the other way around.
Gabriella and her musicians use a variety of musical styles—you’ll hear shades of folk music, country-western, pop, gospel, soft rock and jazz. Gabriella is the primary vocalist on the album; her voice is filled with drama, electricity and joy. Her vocal companions are featured in solos as well as a variety of back-ups. In addition, each song features one or more instrumental collaborations with extremely accomplished players (on guitar, piano, harmonium, flute, percussion, sax and cello). Arrangements, accompaniment and orchestration are polished and constantly enjoyable. Sound technicians did a terrific job with audio quality and balance. And happily, the liner notes include complete texts of each ghazal and poem, with precise references and engaging photographs.
But the comments above refer mostly to the creative success and production qualities of this album. It is well to reflect that this is true devotional music. Its essence is a direct meditative remembrance of the One, specifically Meher Baba. Thus, we listen also on quite another dimension. We understand why the natural styles and interpretations of the singing feel more satisfying than highly trained “operatic” voices. It seemed to me that the heart quality of the vocalists’ dedication and their understanding of the meaning of the ghazals get communicated in subtle ways.
I offer as additional evidence a reaction by the “lyricist”—Bhau Kalchuri, in an e-mail sent to Gabriella:
I received your CD containing ghazals written by me from Beloved Avatar Meher Baba’s instructions, and though I wrote the ghazals I can not sing them, and what a gift Beloved Meher Baba has given to you. You have a voice of a nightingale and you sing those ghazals like a nightingale. I am really very much touched with your singing, because they are full of love and express the beauty of ghazals. I feel very much touched. I never thought that these ghazals will be sung at any time, but you make it possible and you have started singing, and not only singing but also making the CD so that people may hear. I have no words to thank you for this work which you have taken upon yourself, and you are doing it as a duty given to you by Beloved Baba. I love you and I love your singing. It is just like a nightingale because the singing is from the depth of your heart.
[Permission granted for quotation.]
Be assured that the heart-felt quality of the CDs does not sacrifice real musicality. Gabriella and her companions rolled the dice and took a chance with Happiness is Better. One of the ghazals warns to “Stay away from love if you do not have the courage.” We are thankful that she did not stay away from love.
It’s been nearly a decade since a friend played me two songs from a new Baba tape on his car’s tape deck, and said, “These are by Gabriella Tal.” After I heard them, he and I shared a recognition in a glance: “There’s something very special here.” The special “something”, of course, is Meher Baba’s Love. “Graceful and Magnificent is the fifth collection of songs through which Gabriella has shared her unique vision of Baba’s Beauty and her deep love for Him.
Qualities that have delighted me in all Gabriella’s music I’ve heard, also grace this new offering. One is her talent for creating ensembles of musicians and singers to forge exquisite settings for her jewel-like voice and that of her longtime duet partner, Mark Malachi. Michael Kovitz’ steady guitar, Dorothy Kitchen’s sweet violin, and Malachi’s piano (including one instrumental solo), synthesizer, and percussion, surround Gabriella with seamless performances. Tim Smith’s saxophone caresses both ends of her voice on “You Are Nurturing Me,” and his flute romps with her beyond the moon on “Falling”.
In addition to these lovelies, a chorus of Chapel Hill Baba-lovers does a smooth job on the refrains of several songs.
And then there is Gabriella’s voice itself: rich, tender, or on fire as the songs demand. Her renditions of her own lyrics, as well as those by Baba, Rumi, Bhau, and poet Gareth Calway, echo musical genres as various as scat singing, folk, folk-rock, and gospel.
Marilyn Siedes’ cover collage and the entire lyric booklet,arranged graphically by Wendy Savage, are treasures in their own right.
The album contains stirring remembrances of Mani and Mansari, as well as a musical version of “Love and Devotion” (from The Everything and the Nothing). The listener to this DC receives the inspiring mosaic of Gabriella’s heart–its vision of God, its reminders of the responsibilities of the lover, and its courageous effort to accept all of life as One, and as Divine.
Review (2): Graceful And Magnificent – David Silverman for Lovestreet Lampost
Everyone who has enjoyed songwriter, poet, and performer Gabriella Tal’s previous albums will be delighted with her newest gift to Baba and His lovers, entitled Graceful and Magnificent. Dedicated to Baba’s sister Mani, this CD covers a wide range of musical and poetic ideas, moods, and styles. Gabriella’s talented musical friends, including pianist Mark Malachi, guitarist Michael Kovitz, and vocalist Karina Miller, to name just a few, royally support the wings of the songs flying out of Gabriella’s heart.
This album begins with a chant song repetition of Baba’s name, which sounds like it could be issuing from the bema (raised dais) of a synagogue, and seems to completely merge the river of Gabriella’s Jewish roots into the Ocean which is Meher Baba.
The second track is a love-paean to Baba’s Mansari, ancient (though ever-young in Baba’s love), faithfully waiting on His hill for sight of her Beloved and for reunion with Him. Then Michael Kovitz plays a short guitar prelude — a simple and touching arrangement of Bhau’s Hindi arti (Aadi Sachaytana) — leading to “You Are Nurturing Me”, a song of acceptance and appreciation of Baba’s ever-flowing nurturing supportive love, even though His grace sometimes flows invisibly within darkness and in silence.
A bouncy rhythm spreads over, envelops, and fertilizes the “Lord’s Garden”, ostensibly Mehera’s garden of love and care seen all over Meherazad, but which extends to include the garden of all creation — Baba’s face — and all of us souls living in it. “Love, Go Before Me” is dedicated to Marguerite Poley, a longtime disciple of Meher Baba, dedicated to her love for Baba, a love guided in the same way as the spring flowers bloom toward the life-giving sun. Here, Tim Smith’s flute reaches upward in spirals, like a bright flowering vine toward the sun’s light.
“Song For The Universe” is based on words of Bhau Kalchuri in Meher Baba Manifesting. Mark Malachi’s catchy piano rhythms support the hand of Gabriella’s voice in pouring the wine of this song about love and wine and song, about the Avatar and His lovers, and about the fire of His love that burns through them. Gareth Calway wrote the words to the next track, “Angel”, which Gabriella set to a gentle lullaby of devotion and appreciation for her Beloved. “Master Your Will For My Song” to me marches along somewhat like a church anthem or chant, with choral
harmony and with a lovely soprano obbligato by Karina Miller. Listen to some of the poetry in this song:
“The swells of the sea are turbulent within these days,
And full of surprise when you dive beneath the waves,
Sometimes you feel guided, sometimes lost in a maze,
The Lord surely moves in mysterious ways.”
Rhythmically sometimes advancing, sometimes retreating, always buoyant, always cheerful, accompanied sprightfully and spiritedly by guitar and flute, “I’m falling” is a song about surrender to the “greater inner eye”, to Baba’s nazar, the appreciation of which, the realization of the presence of which, means the soul’s freedom. There is a sweet unforgettable quality to the melody in Gabriella’s musical coloring of Baba’s message “Love and Devotion”, called here “Love Burns”. Dorothy Kitchen’s violin beautifully fills out this musical portrait of longing for love, for God, for the Beloved. A lovely rhythmic harmony of voices on the chorus makes “It Is All You” memorable to the ear and to the heart.
Gabriella’s strong yet mellifluous voice soars toward the moon in her adaptation of Rumi’s verse (via Coleman Barks), titled “Wild Darling”. Again Dorothy’s violin is an indescribably beautiful partner in this song. Cute and clever, rhythmic and profound, “You Imagine” draws on the ample talents of Gabriella’s musical partners — Mark Malachi, Karina Miller, and Tim Smith — to accompany and support her playful philosophic question and answer of Who is dreaming whom. “Before Dawn” is Mark Malachi’s solo piano contribution to this album. Delicate and subdued shadings and harmony perhaps describe the sorrow and struggle, and then with more forceful rhythm and harmony, the intimations of victory, at the dawn of the soul’s awakening.
How do we know God, how can I know You Baba (now that You have dropped the body), not in night dreams but in my everyday ordinary experience — that is the challenge and the longing of thhe song, “I Feel You”, welling up from the heart’s depths in a beautiful floral tapestry of intertwined voices and harmonies (Gabriella and Karina and beautiful guitar and saxophone by Michael Kovitz and Tim Smith). Baba’s sister Mani has had a deep effect on Gabriella, and this song, “Oh Mani”, is both a call and a promise by Gabriella that they will meet again. In it there is a beautiful refrain of anticipation and longing, backed by a girl’s chorus, that is very, very touching.
The album concludes with the title track, “Graceful and Magnificent”, a regal and powerful anthem of Gabriella’s dedication and surrender to Baba’s formless infinite aspect, even at the cost of life’s dreams, and in the midst of life’s joy and sorrow. The whole choral ensemble (composed in large part of Baba lovers from the Chapel Hill and Raleigh-Durham area) joins in to support this rousing conclusion to a magnificent album.
Congratulations, Gabriella, on another bright milestone in your musical odyssey to the Source of all our songs and poems! As your friend of many years, I can say that you have inspired me in many, many ways, and this album is yet another petal in that flower of inspiration, that flower which is your life, that you are laying down at the feet of our Beloved Baba.
Review: Circles of Light – Max Reif for Glow International (click here for text version)