Album of the Week: Aviva Chernick – La Serena

Posted by Greg on Oct 10, 2019 in Music |

Sometimes inspiration and intrigue can lead to wondrous things.

Aviva Chernick, formerly of the Toronto world-music band Jaffa Road, was in search of inspiration. Raised in the Ashkenazi Jewish tradition she was aware of but not exactly familiar with Sephardic Jewish musician Flory Jagoda and her Balkan Ladino traditions. Her lack of familiarity drew her closer. And so it was that she began copiously studying Jagoda and her music. Her diligence would eventually lead to a meeting with Jagoda and soon a kinship was formed. The end result is La Serena, her gorgeous and mesmerizing new album.

Whether its the understated opener “A Ti Espanya” or the ascending and awe-inspiring “Min Hameitzar,” there’s something wholly refreshing about how simply and beautifully this album starts. That trend continues on “Kol Dodi” a midly hazy and languid effort that is supple, simple and well, downright splendid. The beauty here is that Chernick does and says a lot with very little. The first three songs mostly rise on the strength of her stunning vocals and muted instrumentation. Whereas so many albums these days are horridly overproduced, La Serena is the exact opposite. This is an album that breathes, sighs and worms its way into your marrow. Only twenty or thirty years ago, albums were made like this, but these days that seems too few and far between.

The easiest vocal comparison for Chernick is probably Natalie Merchant and nowhere is that more apparent than on the tender and timeless “Buena Semana.” Bolstered by subtle guitars and her woozy, welcoming vocals, it is a song that feels familiar and one that is certain to tug at the heartstrings. The album’s first half concludes with “La Serena,” a gently rising lullaby that is equal parts ageless, alacrious and awe-inspiring.

Stunning is a word that often gets thrown around carelessly but Chernick’s vocals are exactly that. This is a woman who has an incredible knack for intonation, cadence and pitch. She’s also a skillful songwriter as the sonic arrangements partner with her voice in a way that feels divinely inspired. The arrangements are felt throughout the album but shine in the crescendo of “Buena Semana,” resulting in an effort that almost feels hymnal.

La Serena’s second half carries things forward with the inward and lyrical “Arvoles Yoran.” Equal parts poetic, passionate and pristine “Arvoles Yoran” is a song that has a subtlety and a charm that allows it to make a statement without ever once rattling the speakers. That ability to restrain and draw back is truly what makes all the difference. Quite simply it is hard to think of “Arvoles Yoran” sounding any different. These songs feel inherent to her and have a cadence about them that is downright mesmerizing.

One of the clearest examples of that is the entrancing “Esta Montanya de Enfrente,” a finger-picked masterpiece that lingers long after the final seconds. Chernick’s vocals are a marvel from the very first notes of “A Ti Espanya” but never do they sound more breathtaking than “Esta Montanya de Enfrente.” On an album that focuses mostly on ballads and hymns the vernal and upbeat “Laz Tiyas” is both welcome and perfectly timed. Truth be told, La Serena probably could have used a song similar to this in the album’s earlier set but hey, beggars cannot be chosers.

Penultimate cut “Adon Olam” veers towards Arabic pop in a way that is both surprising and sensational. Framed by a memorable duduk (Perian woodwind) solo, “Adon Olam” is probably the most foreign-sounding of the lot here, but it is that unfamiliarity that makes this song so dang enjoyable. Beginning quietly the song rises verse by verse before drawing inward one final time. The effortlessness to which Chernick composes each passing second is exactly why this is a name worth remembering. Fittingly, La Serena concludes with the vocal track “Rikordus di mi Nona” a song that features only Chernick and her inimitable voice.

Throughout the course of these ten songs Chernick sings in Hebrew, Ladino, English and French. That vocal dexterity is just one of many reasons to throw your arms around this album. Though we’ve already declared our album of the year for 2019, one has to think La Serena just might be in the running. World music can often be a tough sell but with vocals this powerful you’d have to have a heart of stone to not be moved by any of this. This is an album awash in mandolins, pianos, shakers, ouds (Arabic lute), tombaks (hand drum) and djembes. Most importantly, these are songs that demand wider attention. So here’s to Aviva and the wonderfully powerful trappings of Balkan Ladino music. Who knew?

1 Comment

Aviva Chernick
Nov 6, 2019 at 9:03 pm

What a beautiful review! Thanks so much. Really.




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