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Novella: Ukulele Mosaique
By Andre Feriante
Label: Lumar Recordings
Novella: Ukulele Mosaique tracks
1. Rio by Night
2. Of Wing and Wing
3. Ophelia's Joy
4. Arabesque
5. Druango
6. La Portuguesa
7. Sweet Nadine
8. Easyheart
9. Othello's Dream
10. Eyes in the Forest
Novella: Ukulele Mosaique
It's a cliche to write "you won't believe your ears" but when you listen to Andre Feriante's Novella: Ukulele Mosaique, you may find yourself thinking just that. If your only exposure to this instrument is via gimmick artists (from my generation, that would be Tiny Tim), then you are bound to have your musical universe expanded. Famed guitarist Feriante, through a curious bit of serendipity (more on that later), came in contact with Hawaiian and master craftsman instrument maker David Poplar, and the seed for this amazing album was planted. The resultant recording holds ten wholly improvised pieces, recorded in a single night session. Tapping into a myriad of musical influences, including Spain, Hawaii, Italy, Celtic, and the American blues tradition, Feriante reveals that the ukulele will have a formidable future in instrumental music if he has anything to say about it.

The Backstory: Feriante began thinking of incorporating ukulele in his live concerts. He debuted the instrument at a show at the Port Angeles (Washington) Art Center. In attendance at the show was the aforementioned David Poplar, who approached Feriante afterwards about possibly hand-making him a custom ukulele, unlike the norm and including a fifth (extra bass) string. Over time, the two developed both a working relationship born out of mutual respect and also a true friendship. Poplar ended up making an assortment of different custom "ukes" for Feriante, and these instruments are all heard on Novella (and the ukuleles are the only instruments on the album - nothing else). The versions range from a three-stringed model which sounds Celtic to one which has a ukulele body but a guitar-like neck. Each of these produces a notably different sound, although not so much that the album suffers from a lack of cohesive musical vision.

Feriante, in the liner notes, states " an exploration into musical storytelling." The album itself came about more or less by accident, as the artist was in the studio one night and had brought his ukuleles with him merely to hear how they would sound when recorded. Well, with each improvisation on one or the other of the six ukes he had brought with him, his engineer would ask for a title, and before either of them knew it, they had the tracks which make up Novella.

The first thing you may notice about the ukulele music on Novella is how it sounds somewhat closer to guitar music than you might expect, but still different as well. The next thing that will grab you is the sensuousness, the romanticism, the passion, and the haunting beauty of Feriante's playing, starting with the gently swaying fluidity of Rio by Night, which carries more than a hint of Latin spice, but subdued enough to be a late night song (which, by the way, this would be an ideal album for intimate get-togethers over a glass of wine with your loved one). Of Wind and Wing has a more wistful tone to it and takes its musical cue from Hawaii and the tune showcases Feriante's talent at flying over the strings with both speed and grace. Ophelia's Joy (based on a wedding song) may be one of the more "ukulele-ish" tunes on the album, and it does radiate a gentle sense of joy and love. Arabesque has its roots in the Moorish culture and it's a heady, exotic, fiery number. Durango is played on the three-stringed ukulele and, as Feriante states in the liner notes, it does indeed have a "western" sound to it (as in "cowboy" west). You can guess at the musical influences found in La Portuguesa and they are there for sure. For those who have enjoyed Feriante's flamenco-styled music in the past, this song will be a favorite. Sweet Nadine is where Feriante shows his blues chops with one tasty ukulele lick after another. Closing out the album are Easyheart, Othello's Dream, and Feriante's darkest musical exploration, Eyes in the Forest, which is played on the six-string version of the instrument with an abundance of minor key notes and chords. I agree with his liner notes which state that this "...sounds nothing like most ukulele music."

This review probably doesn't do the music on Novella: Ukulele Mosaique justice, due to my inability to capture the same magic in words that Andre Feriante does with his six ukuleles. I played this CD over and over and never tired of it, owing in part to the diversity of the tracks (although, again, a cohesive vision flows throughout all ten improvisations), but also the overall beauty and sensitivity of Feriante's playing, not to mention his technical mastery of the instruments as well. I consider it one of the more romantic albums I've heard in recent years, too. Which is not surprising since Novella is a love letter to the under-appreciated ukulele from an artist who clearly feels affection for it.
Rating: Very Good   Very Good
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 6/13/2014
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