Haale: Rediscovering fire

Haale Cedar Cultural Center April 2, 2008 Review by Jeff Shaw Photos by James Tran

When Jimi Hendrix was in Army jump school, he was mesmerized by the sounds around him. Surrounded by aural sensations, the legendary guitarist couldn't wait to get back onto solid ground to re-create them with his guitar.

Last night during Haale's show at the Cedar, we heard a similar attempt. The Persian singer-songwriter explained how the story about Hendrix had inspired her to write "Floating Down," a track where the airplane-motor thrum of Brent Arnold's cello intro mimics what Jimi might have heard in his head. Hendrix is a fitting muse, too, for Haale's blend of psychedelic rock music fused with Persian mysticism. There might not be guitar gymnastics happening, but the trio's innovative music makes fuzzy guitars and 800-year-old poetry mix like peanut butter and chocolate.

Haale: Rediscovering fire

Haale on guitar. More photos by James Tran.

Then there is Haale's voice. Thinner while speaking her explanatory notes, the words bubble out of her rich and smoky when she begins to sing. She uses the speaking voice to recite between-song poems from Persian mystics like Rumi or French mystics like Pierre de Teilhard de Chardin ("They all say pretty much the same thing -- 'let's get this love thing on,'" she says). She uses the singing voice to create a trance-like warmth that surrounds listeners like the sound of Hendrix's airplane enveloped him.

If Haale's voice is the wind-swept sound surrounding the wings, then Matt Kilmer's percussion is the plane's engine. Using judicious layers of sound, Kilmer's rhythms are interesting without becoming too busy. He drums with just his hands and feet, but the sounds are intricate, which is most apparent during interludes absent guitar or cello.

Haale's is a very literary show. Besides speaking poems as occasional bookends to songs, she also quotes Kurt Vonnegut Jr. during an explanation of "Chenan Mastam." Taken together the phrase roughly means "I am so intoxicated with wonder" -- or, in Vonnegut's phrase describing the experience of children, so "smashed on the Great Big Everything."

In the robust mix of tracks like opener "Navayee" or CD title track "No Ceiling," the cello risks being lost. But this is also part of what makes the group's latest studio release one of the most interesting and sexiest discs of the year -- sounds combine into one elegant groove that sweeps the listener up in it. And there are quiet respites, too. During songs where the guitar is gentler, like "Off-Duty Fortune Teller," Arnold's cello comes through more.

"No Ceiling" is a CD where it's easy to lose yourself in the music. Live, Haale's song explanations add to the experience. She describes writing "Town on the Sea," a tune about an island off the coast of Marseilles where the band played. The place used to be a colony for bubonic plague victims. But in describing its architecture, the concentric circles and broken columns reminiscent of ancient Greece, Haale made it sound lovely.

When a singer can make a sensual song about a plague colony, you know you've found a special talent.

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