Ura (H2O)
(Elkarlanean, 2000)

After two decades and a couple dozen recordings, most musical outfits are content to coast a little. But veteran folk group Oskorri, based in Bilbao, Euskadi (Spanish Basque country) is still a dynamic force, involved in all kinds of innovative musical projects to revive Basque traditions.

Ura is the result of a collaboration with Basque and international artists including accordionist Kepa Junkera and foot percussionist Michel Bordeleau from the Quebec group La Bottine Souriante. The result: an exploration of Basque folk traditions that is wholly fresh and new.

Although it explores various styles of music, Ura has a connectedness and thematic unity woven together by lead singer Natxo de Felipe's voice, Bordeleau's feet, Bixente Martinez's accomplished guitar and Txarli de Pablo's bass.

The elements that give it added life are as varied as the vocal group Faltriquera, who do the response on "Argi Oilarrak," Basque trumpeter Jacky Berecochea, the duo Oreka TX on txalaparta (an ancient Basque percussion instrument for two) and numerous other guests, on a wide variety of brass, reed and percussion instruments.

The folk songs are collected from all over the Basque country, including some written for the CD, and all are arranged by the band. There's plenty of variety. On "Buhameak," de Felipe sings about the marginalization suffered by the Roma (a.k.a. Gypsies or Bohemians) in Basque country. While De Felipe's vocals provide the signature for the group, Anton Latxa is also a fine vocalist and is featured on "Ingrat Baten Maitazeak," a song about love betrayed.

The most impressive moment is "Amodio Ohantzea," a song from Anglet in the French Basque country. It's the tale of two lovers who meet in a sea cave but are overcome by the tides. The lyrics are in that simple, matter-of-fact, Basque style, ending with the line: "And the cave slowly breathes over our echo."

The lovely "Adios Ene Esposa," about a sailor forced to go to sea and leave his new wife, features the sweet, lush sounds of band members Jose Urrejola on sax, Josu Salbide on flute and guest Berecochea on flugelhorn. On "Txikertxu polit hori," Bordeleau's flying feet set the pace for a lively, fast-paced but still soulful Basque folk song.

"Iturri Zaharretik" sounds vaguely Arabic and provides the lyric "We drink from the old fountain/ from a source that is always new/ in a language that is always old," which pretty much summarizes this project. Band member Xabier Zeberio sets the scene on violin. Yes, the Basques (and Oskorri) keep re-inventing themselves.

The CD wraps up with a little scatological humour (again a-la Bottine Souriante) in "Kaka Zuretzako" and then a surprise track 14 -- I won't ruin the surprise! This album has a little of everything.

The band and guests are extremely accomplished. Production values are excellent. The liner notes are colourful, while full translations are provided into Spanish, French and English ... what's not to like?

- Rambles
written by David Cox
published 13 September 2003