Big in Sardinia

'A lot in the minutiae'

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BRATTLEBORO — Even musicophiles might be a little mystified when members of an ensemble coming to town next week huddle closely together in a square with their arms locked and begin singing in a Sardinian style.

"It's kind of a minimalist musical form in a sort of way," said Avery Book, a member of the group. "There's not a lot going on harmonically. It's specifically not complicated. Not a whole lot seems to be going on on the surface but there's a lot in the minutiae."

Book said the body positioning is not a performance style but a way that originated at singing parties on Sardinia. The island is the second largest in the Mediterranean Sea and an autonomous region of Italy.

Book, of Plainfield, is bringing his quartet, Tenores de Aterue, to perform at 118 Elliot in Brattleboro from 7 to 9 p.m. on Jan. 19. Book, bassu in the group, is joined by Gideon Crevoshay, mesu boghe; Carl Linich, contra; and Doug Paisley, boghe.

Their collaboration began about 10 years ago.

"We've been getting together to sing this kind of casually and music from the Republic of Georgia," Book said. "We all met through our love of world vocal polyphony and obscure singing traditions of the world."

One day, Linich suggested the quartet try a style of music from Sardinia called cantu a tenore. Now, the group is the only non-Sardinian ensemble dedicated to singing this way. And that, Book said, has turned its members into minor celebrities in Sardinia.

Their music can be heard at tenoresdeaterue.bandcamp.com. A trailer for "Aterue the Singers from Elsewhere," which documents their 2013 trip to Sardinia, can be seen on youtube.com.

The quartet has never performed in Brattleboro as a group. But performances in Vermont have included venues in Bennington, Burlington and Montpelier. Book said responses to the music are "very positive."

Some fans, who have followed the quartet since the start, talk about how much has changed since the trip to Sardinia.

"We learned more in those three weeks than we did in the five years previous to that," Book said. The fans "notice and appreciate how our grooves have improved."

Those new to the music "tend to be blown away by what is it," he said. "It is singing but it's just so different from any style, where it's really an ocean of sound. Sometimes, it feels like you're being invited to listen to a groove before the singers decide they're done with the groove."

Part of the performance involves inviting the audience into the story of the quartet's exploration of this singing style.

"We really try to give people a sense of who we learned this from, where we got it from and what this means to the people in Sardinia," said Book.

He believes 90 percent of the more than 40,000 views his group's YouTube video has come from residents in Sardinia.

Crevoshay's cousin coined a phrase Book likes to use when describing the quartet.

"We're kind of a big deal in obscure places," Book said. "When we went to Sardinia, we felt like celebrities. We were recognized in the street."

Book called the power and intimacy of the music "an interesting mix."

"It's very visceral," he said. "Even though we've been singing it for five years before we went to Sardinia, when we first heard it in person by others singers, you just can't help but be moved to tears."

The Brattleboro performance is part of an eight-show tour that includes stops in Brooklyn, N.Y., Boston and Washington, D.C. Book said he hopes to do another tour during the spring. He is looking forward to filling 118 Elliot with song.

"It's nice to be playing in that space," he said. "We appreciate that space."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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