Evaluated by Claude Lemaire. Max. perfect rating: 10/ A+ [sound/music] Original review published Feb. 2011
Six Degrees Records (2008)
U.S. CD 657036 1143-2
Rating: 8.5/ A
Category: World Fusion
Format: CD (red book 16/44.1k)
Produced by Pacifika
Recorded at Rear Window Song and Sound.
Tracks 1, 2, 3, 4 and 8 Mixed by Ben Wisch at the Bailey Building and Loan New York, New York
Mastered by Ken Lee of Ken Lee Mastering, Oakland, CA USA
Silvana Kane – Voice, Sounds and Percussion
Adam Popowitz – Guitars, Xylophone, Sounds and Engineering
Tony Peter – Bass, Drums and Sounds
Elliot Polsky – Drums and Percussion
Pepe Danza – Percussion and Sounds
Will Yew – Violin
Christina Zaenker – Cello
Band photography – Rebecca Bisset
Art Direction/ Design: Michael Snyder
Lately I had the pleasure of discovering two wonderfully original Canadian bands; one posting a small following after two albums and the other less well known, emerging with a five song EP. What they both share is a multilinguistic approach to singing, a respect for the environment plus a deep and mutual appreciation for and from its audience.
Peace, La Paix, Paz…
Pacifika is a Vancouver trio featuring the lovely Silvana Kane on vocals and tambourine, Adam Popowitz on electric and acoustic guitars and Toby Peter on five string electric Bass and numerous percs, augmented live by fourth member Elliot Polsky on drums, percussion and electronic samplers.
Show Rating: A+
I first came upon this musical treasure by reading an article in my daily newspaper loosely describing their style as a mix of worldbeat, flamenco, melodic pop and trance. My curiosity was piqued to say the least, plus the photo of the beautiful Peruvian born Diva didn’t hurt I must confess. To say I was not disappointed in their performance or otherwise would be a big understatement. In fact they gave the best show I’ve attended in awhile. As of this writing the group is nominated for a Juno Award for ‘World Music Album of the Year 2010’.
The five hundred seat venue was at full capacity for the two set show; luckily I got a great view from second row. Polsky being first to enter center stage, established the machine-like groove and proved more than capable of maintaining max precision without losing the feel of a real drummer–no mean feat.
Then came Peter on second base or make that Fender Bass, doubling up on the lower registers of his five string not to mention our own fluttering eardrums–flashback to a long forgotten Melvin concert–both of them keeping our feet and auditory system happy the whole time. Indeed the “added” B-string below open E, lowers the instrument’s normal fundamental frequency from 41.2Hz down to 30.9Hz; a significant difference I can assure you. All this plugged into an Ashdown ABM 900 EVO III Bass amp.
Third up in left field was Popowitz, low key but very stylish in vest, necktie and hat, tastefully blending his electric guitar plus chosen effects such as the Boss GT-5 in the mix; the classic Vox AC 30 handling amplification duties. With just a hint of The Edge coming through both in the reverb and minimalist approach, never once did he try to steal the show. Often times a ‘showy musician’ will tend to overpower a group; here everybody showed great restraint and control of their instrument, demonstrating true mastery of their craft.
Finally after an exciting instrumental buildup, the stage was set for the main focal point to materialize. Silvana all dressed in black–saved for a nice hint of red–greeted us with a dance-like entrance and to our delight started to sing.
The musicians displayed solid chops throughout the concert, the four sharing great chemistry on stage, not to mention plain fun which is important and all too often missing between players. Songs taken from their two albums–Asunción and the latest Supermagique–are a mix of English, Spanish and French with elements of traditional and modern intertwined, such as afropop, bossa nova, Latin rhythms, hip hop beats and even electronica in small doses surfacing at times; what the group calls World Fusion. This may scare some “purist” but the spectators including yours truly took it all in, thanking them with a sustained standing ovation before being rewarded with a couple of encores.
After the concert I stayed and had the opportunity to chat with the four. All were very friendly and proclaimed loving Québec during their Canadian tour. Silvana made the extra effort of addressing the audience in french while touring the province; her Peruvian accent only adding to her genuine warmth and beauty. Adam is the techie in the group, handling all the recording and mixing aspects of the studio albums. He uses Logic Studio from Apple as his main software tool plus some outboard analog and tube gear to get a more organic sound. He as well as Elliot, admitted a big preference for analog tape over digital anytime, but with the huge number of tracks (up to 90) on some songs and the higher cost associated for tracking sessions, this was simply not an option for the first two albums. Truly a delightful and insightful conversation with this fantastic quartet from the Pacific City, west coast of British Columbia.
The cover artwork is simple but tastefully done. Rebecca Bisset’s photography of the trio and Michael Snyder’s gatefold carton adds a nice touch to the presentation. Enclosed are the lyrics to the eleven songs of this debut album for the six degrees label.
Discovering a new band by first seeing them play live before your eyes instead of through your speakers in your home can be a delight as well as a curse especially nowadays when these same artist auto produce/record their material. With the ubiquitous proliferation of home studio software, gear and free downloads, the present generation of artist can ‘dispense’ with the old ways of doing business i.e. big expensive studios, mixing boards, vintage mikes and qualified personnel just to name a few. But this new found egalitarianism is like a double edged sword, along with its technical freedom comes the danger of the self appointed musician/sound engineer yearning to use every effect at his disposal when oftentimes the “less is more” approach would be the better choice.
Such was the situation with my introduction to Pacifika, you can thus better appreciate my fear or rather apprehension towards my first spin of Asunción on my system. Thankfully I needed not worry, guitarist and engineer Adam Popowitz did a fantastic job tracking the different instruments and Silvana’s voice–he seems to know what he wants and how to get it on tape, well maybe not really on tape but rather on hard disk in binary form.
Like so many CD’s since awhile, the level is on the loud side when you hit ‘Play’. That said the general trend of the album is not ‘in your face’ loud, it is simply louder than need be.
“Sol” opens the album and indeed sunshine and warmth is plentiful in Silvana’s native voice occupying central stage. Perhaps mimicking the new day, the beat comes on gradually, panned acoustic guitars top it off. At the end of the day we’re left with the simple sound of a cricket.
“Me Caí” starts with solo bass, guitar comes in and Silvana seems to double her voice for effect. At midpoint, the songs comes to a total stop. The mood changes completely thanks in part to bassist Tony Peter reaching down towards the B string lending a heavier feel. Quite effective I should add.
“Chiquita” has a cute melody going for it. Once again voice is doubled in center while chorus is panned. The outro is a bit special with Silvana’s intimate voice talking closer on the left of stage.
Big change of style with “Sweet“. Drummer Elliot Polsky establishes his rhythmic pattern with a panned hi-hat introducing a great simple beat. The low grunt of the bass adds to the groove followed by guitars panned left and right. This is the first song of the album in English. Silvana’s voice is sweet and intimate. Midway through she switches to Spanish, doubled for effect before alternating back to English. This is in my opinion the strongest track of the album regarding music and sound quality. Drum is punchy and articulate, bass is solid and deep, guitars clean and very well recorded. Voice up close at just the right level. The mix, dynamic–for pop–open and well balanced is spot on. I would tend to qualify it ‘Demo-worthy’. If my recollection is correct, this song was the show opener and with reason.
“Paloma” definitely takes on a Spanish twist with flamenco stylings such as hand clap, castagnettes or similar percs. Cymbals crenscendoe to give way to the groovy beat and soon a ride cymbal joins in ‘off beat’.
Turning more towards a Rock feel and back to Spanish, “Más y Más” features a highly distorted electric guitar occupying the right channel. It is very compressed bringing undue right ear fatigue. It takes time before the actual beat appears for a short duration only. Vocals come back accompanied by Adam’s guitar. Although I largely suspect the distortion and compression/limiting effect to be an artistic choice, it nevertheless is the worse sounding track of the album.
The sound improves but still some compression persist with “Estrellas De Miel“, a Spanish rhythmic guitar 2/4 metered track.
“Libertad” opens with clean guitar on the left, bass and percussion on the right flanking Silvana in English while a second guitar on the right makes its presence known. The bass notes reach way down in frequency and their weight is impressive. The Spanish chorus has reverb added for effect which makes a great contrast with the coda. The latter sung in English, staying very dry as she comes closer to the front to finish a cappella.
“Cuatro Hijas” has wind for intro. Panned classical guitars plus artificial harmonics are intimate and superbly recorded. The singing in Spanish is soft and very close. Cello and violin enrich the outro.
The first four bars of “Oyeme” consist of strummed acoustic guitar plus conga. After which a crash cymbal introduces the drumbeat groove, bass guitar goes down low, rumbling in deep Hertzian territory. Close-miked guitar is panned to widen the stage. Great synth percussive effect surprises in its originality. The last bars end with the vocal close up and acapella. Probably my second favorite for music and sound.
“Las Olas” the last song of the album leaves us on a wave of delight. Adam keeps it uncluttered with panned acoustic guitars. Silvana’s voice is smooth, close-miked and intimate. Lovely violin, cello plus xylophone lends a ‘berceuse’ ambiance to the piece. Bass pedals deliver deep solid lows. The fade-out could have lasted a bit longer in my opinion, nevertheless a beautiful finale.
Asunción makes an impressive debut for Pacifika; retaining the rawness of the live event while adding a bit of studio polishing and music arrangements. Guitarist and engineer Adam Popowitz is a rarity in this industry in that most musicians don’t make good engineers, they either have damaged hearing caused by accumulated years of high level non-protective playing or mix it in a way to put the spotlight on themselves. Neither is the case here. The instruments are for the most part clean and very well captured with their tone intact. With the help of Mixing Engineer Ben Wisch on half the tracks, the mix is surprisingly–in this day and age–perfect. Honestly I wouldn’t change a thing.
Apart from tracks 6 and 7, the dynamic range is refreshingly natural for this type of music–a rare endangered species I’m afraid. Also noteworthy is the wide bandwidth well balanced from top to bottom. In fact in quite a few instances, deep solid bass can be felt and is mixed just at the right level, implying neutral control-room monitor levels along with good sound judgement. Lastly all this hard work would go to waste if the last sonic manipulation step is not equally handled with great care. Here Mastering Engineer Ken Lee seems to have done just that. Kudos for not perpetuating the Loudness Wars.
Of course even with competent ears you cannot expect perfection in binary form – I’m sure Adam and Elliot would agree–so don’t go in expecting ‘golden age’ late 1950’s 3-track tube transparency nor early 1970’s 2 inch 24-track analog warmth a la Dark Side of the Moon and co. Accept it for what it is: excellent 2008 digital on CD.
If only all new releases approached this level of quality, a reviewer’s life would be so much easier.