Yair Yona: World Behind Curtains
Strange Attractors

The first sound one hears on Israeli guitarist-composer Yair Yona's second album, World Behind Curtain, is a dense cluster of twelve-string acoustic guitar playing—a sure sign that we're entering a rarefied sound world inhabited by a select group of music-makers whose members include James Blackshaw, Bert Jansch, Glenn Jones, and Robbie Basho. World Behind Curtains will especially appeal to admirers of Blackshaw's The Glass Bead Game, as both albums deftly highlight both the artist's guitar playing prowess and his arranging and compositional gifts. Like Blackshaw's album, Yona's features no shortage of spectacular solo guitar work, but it's also an ambitious collection of fully realized instrumentals where strings, piano, horns, and percussion play significant parts.

He's a generous chap, ready and willing to acknowledge the influence of others and pay tribute to them. The album overflows not only with generosity but an uplifting, life-affirming spirit. “This One's For You, Glenn,” for example, pays joyous tribute to one of Yona's kindred spirits (helped along greatly by Idit Mintzer's French Horn contribution to the piece), while “Kottke and the Orchids,” of course, does the same to Leo Kottke, this time via dazzling displays of rapid-fire picking. Though, as Yona himself admits, the influence of Jansch's Avocet might be audible during “It's Not the Heat (It's the Humidity),” the piece is lovely no matter how it came into being, especially when it marries the graceful curlicues of Yona's six-string acoustic to the equally graceful playing of pianist Shira Shaked; of course, while it's true that everyone brings a unique set of associations to every listening experience, I can't help but hear a distant echo of Nick Drake in the purity of its melodic changes. The album ends on a disarmingly lovely note with “Bella,” a waltz rendered even more touching in featuring the piano playing of Yona's mother as the only other sound besides his own.

Not a moment's wasted on the ultra-concise, thirty-five-minute release; witness, for instance, the dispatch with which “Miss Fortune (Kaiser's Eyes)” segues between multiple moods—plaintive, mysterious, foreboding—in a mere three minutes. This masterfully expressive album makes good on its title, too, in bringing into its orbit musics from other parts of the globe—gypsy, klezmer, blues, etc. The influence of Yona's Tel Aviv homeland emerges in the ululating string melodies coursing through “Mad About You,” and close your eyes at the close of “Kottke and the Orchids” and you just might find yourself picturing a small-town Italian villa, especially when Erze Kariel's bouzouki appears alongside Yona's twelve-string.

March 2012