Music didn’t bring Ayelet Rose Gottlieb to Vancouver, but it might convince her to stick around—along with two small bundles of joy that have conveniently decided to sleep through a brief but enlightening telephone interview with the Jerusalem-born singer.
“My husband works here in the film industry; he’s an animator,” Gottlieb explains. “So that’s what brought us, initially, to Vancouver. And then our kids were born here—we have twin babies—so that kind of made it more like home for us. We’ll see what happens, but we feel like we’d like to stay.”
Israel and, more recently, New York City’s loss is very much our gain. To her admitted surprise, the cosmopolitan Gottlieb has found herself quite at home here on the eastern edge of the Pacific. It’s been a pleasure, she says, to be welcomed into Vancouver’s small but growing creative-music scene, to have been championed by Western Front music curator DB Boyko and Vancouver International Jazz Festival artistic director Ken Pickering, and to have reconnected with another Big Apple exile in the form of guitarist (and occasional John Zorn colleague) Aram Bajakian.
“I feel very lucky to have met collaborators who are equal, in musicianship and ability, to anyone I’ve played with anywhere else,” Gottlieb says. “So it’s really fantastic in that way, and I really appreciate also the work of people like Kenny and DB who put together these incredible series and festivals. It feels like there’s a nice continuation from my life in New York to my music life in Vancouver.”
Pickering provided Gottlieb with one of her first Vancouver showcases, an intimate and rather abstract jazz-fest concert with her fellow Israeli, pianist Anat Fort. The singer is certainly comfortable on the fringe: one of her more esoteric projects is an a cappella quartet, Mycale, dedicated to singing Zorn’s “radical Jewish music”.
Sometimes, though, she swings closer to the centre. Her recently released Roadsides, for instance, is radical only in that its lyrics draw on the achingly imagistic work of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Sonically, it could fit into any Mediterranean-pop playlist, while careful listeners will detect the influence of both Billie Holiday and Umm Kulthum on Gottlieb’s voice.
Her approach, the singer says, has “evolved naturally through who I am, I guess—and it keeps evolving and changing.
“It’s dynamic,” she continues. “I find myself doing different things at different times, and of course there’s always a thread that links them. But also sometimes they’re quite different from one another because of the specific moment of time that I’m in, or the musicians that I’m working with, or the places I’ve visited. It’s a journey, and what I try to do always is to stay authentic to myself, and true to my voice in that specific moment. Whatever that means is what the music will be.”
So where will Gottlieb’s musical journey take her next? To the moon, it seems. This weekend, as part of the Western Front’s VOICE OVER mind Festival, she’ll unveil 12 Lunar Meditations: Summoning the Witches, a new song cycle for voice, improvising quartet, and choir.
“The Summoning the Witches part is an idea that I had when I was pregnant, and once my kids were born my sense was that it was a shared idea of mine and my little girl’s. Her nickname is Moon, so it became about the moon. What I did was ask 12 women from around the world—women who work and speak in different languages—to write a text about the moon for me. That was really the only guideline that I gave them. I didn’t limit them as far as amount of words, or prose or poetry, or anything at all.”
The contributors, who range from Cherokee tarot reader Birdie Lawson to Swiss gynecologist Noémi Deslex to Japanese-American journalist turned singer Kyoko Kitamura, sent Gottlieb a recording of their own words, along with an English translation where necessary. Using those for inspiration, the singer has created a dozen brief compositions—which, she says, will be looser than those found on the intricately arranged Roadsides.
“It’s very different to my ear, because Lunar Meditations is fresh; it’s still jumping off the page,” she explains. “After every rehearsal I come home and I tweak and I change and I add and I omit, so it’s still kind of a work in progress. Roadsides was accumulated over 15 years, so when the time came to record it, it was so ripe that I knew every note that I wanted to hear. Of course there was still a lot of freedom, but not as much as there will be in this.
“Both of those worlds [improvisation and composition] are ones that resonate with me,” she continues. “And it’s not just two worlds. I said ‘both’, but it’s more than two. The composers that I listen to span from [Johann Sebastian] Bach to, I don’t know, Egyptian music and Argentine music. And, as a singer, I’m influenced by jazz improvisation and free-jazz improvisation, as well as by other traditions of improvisation. All of those aspects work their way into different pieces that I compose: whatever’s appropriate in that moment will shine out.”
With guitarist Bajakian, violinist Meredith Bates, cellist Peggy Lee, and drummer Dylan Van Der Schyff in her band, along with the vocal support of the VOICE OVER mind choir, Gottlieb’s moony Meditations should shine brightly indeed.
Ayelet Rose Gottlieb presents 12 Lunar Meditations: Summoning the Witches at the Western Front on Saturday (March 21), as part of the VOICE OVER mind Festival.