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Heard In

Kurt Gottschalk, The Squid’s Ear, March 12, 2012

Having earned her avant pop stripes working with Bjork and Mike Patton, Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq plunged deeper into the fringes at the 2009 Guelph Jazz Festival where she was paired with drummer Jean Martin and violinist Jesse Zubot, two movers in the Toronto out jazz scene. To say her music got stranger or more abstract would be hasty — the tradition she mines is pretty deep — but she now had a standing band and was plugged into the Canadian festival circuit.

Tagaq is an animated performer. Enormously so, and the tradition of Inuit throat singing lends well to that. Similar in technique to the more familiar Tuvan throat singing (made known in the free improv world by Mongolian vocalist Sainkho Namtchylak), the Inuit style is more centered on storytelling and humor. The singer may portray hunting scenes, emulate animal sounds, or reach deep into fear, sadness, joy or sexuality. Tagaq draws from all of these in her evocative performances. She is raw and unbridled and often channels an eroticism unusual in the staid and intellectual free improv scene. (No sex please, we’re post-jazz.)

Anuraaqtuq is Tagaq’s third record and her first with Martin and Zubot. The 2005 Sinaa received scant distribution outside Canada, despite winning several Canadian Aboriginal Music awards, so 2008’s Auk/Blood, released on Patton’s Ipecac label, was many listeners’ first introduction to her. It was a daring but uneven record, pulled in different directions by a varied cast of contributors. Anuraaqtuq on the other hand is an hour of out-of-her-gourd spontaneity. The freedom of the extended improvised session suits Tagaq well; She has nothing but room here to stretch and freak out. And drenched in reverb, the disc is far from a stark and pristine session. Martin and Zubot play their parts perfectly, always supporting her but never letting the ground beneath her feet get too firm.

Ten years into her performing career, it still seems early to tell where Tagaq might go with her avant garde Inuit art. But there’s a world of long-form experimentation already inhabited by such vocalists as Namtchylak, Makagami Koichi and Phil Minton, which is there for the taking if she wants it.

Anuraaqtuq is an hour of out-of-her-gourd spontaneity. The freedom of the extended improvised session suits Tagaq well; She has nothing but room here to stretch and freak out.

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