Medna Roso by PJEV, Kit Downes, and Hayden ChisholmRelease date: May 5, 2023
Label: Red Hook Records
When I first heard Kit Downes’ Obsidian back in 2018, and did a review of the album on Echoes and Dust, it scared me at first. It scared me because I didn’t know what to make of it. But then after multiple listens, I was intrigued for what Downes had done on his solo debut from the ECM label by taking this crystal ball and improvise various themes as if to make the listeners hair go up in hypnotic form.
And then, I completely forgot about him. Until now. Kit has teamed up with the female acapella quintet from Zagreb, Croatia called PJEV, and New Zealand saxophonist, analog synthesiser, and throat singer Hayden Chisholm. They’ve unleashed one of the most surreal, disturbing, and hypnotic releases from the Red Hook label entitled Medna Roso.
Recorded at the St. Agnes Church in Cologne, Germany two years ago for a sold-out show at the Cologne Jazz Week Festival in September of that year, Medna Roso is an empowering release which will take out throughout different landscapes, beyond our universe. Eight traditional songs represent different regions of the Balkans, detailing the distant vocal styles PJEV have embellished throughout this live recording in 2021 that was originally broadcasted by Deutschlandfunk Radio.
You can just close your eyes and imagine yourself, having a front row seat inside the church, and witnessing something that’ll be talked about in the years to come. The moment the movement begins, you are transported into another timeline where the pipe organ, vocals, sax, and throat singing arrangements, have jaw-dropping momentum.
It’s quite an impressive set; Downes’ pipe organ brings a sermon of having church goers come to service and witness something that is not going to be your typical day to praise the Lord. There’s a moment in ‘Ova brda I puste doline (These hills and desolate valleys)’ where the quintet is in mourning. The vocalisations have a sense of something gone horribly wrong, and what has happened.
Once Chisholm comes into play between his sax and throat singing, the audience begins to realise that the structure of once was a time of beauty, is now in ruins before segueing into the second Interlude. Rumbling atmospheres, eerie quietness, Images of a ghost town, and pin dropping momentum.
Both ‘Od kad seke nismo zapjevale (Since we did not sing)’ and ‘Oj djevojko, janje umiliato (Oh girl, the lamb is tender)’ could be something straight out the 2019 video game, Blasphemous where the Penitent one comes to one of the churches in Albero, praying for forgiveness before travelling to his final destiny upon whether he’ll be forgiven, or be trapped to his doom that awaits him.
When I was listening to Medna Roso, I not only felt some Goosebumps around me, but a chill down my spine. It‘s almost as if someone has been watching your every move as afternoon becomes evening. And that’s where you begin to realise that you are trapped in this very quiet little town, not knowing who will began to strike next.
But then everything comes to an end as Chisholm and Downes bring out the Tangerine Dream-sque atmosphere by bringing the service to an end with the PJEV quintet saying farewell to ‘Lički ojkan’.
Throughout the entire structure, there’s a sense of wonder to what Downes, Chisholm, and PJEV have accomplished throughout their performance at the St. Agnes Church two years ago. The way it’s presented, it may be unsettling, but the whole movement is quite spellbinding from start to finish.