“Abracadabra” is the latest musical offering from the multi-talented Milana Zilnik. Enamored with the unique sound of the hand pan, sometimes referred to as a “Hang Drum,” she acquired one of her own, learned to play it, and soon composed a couple of pieces for it (these are available for viewing on YouTube). Completely smitten by now, she decided the instrument merited a full album. (For the uninitiated, a hand pan is a steel drum shaped rather like a UFO; it is tuned diatonically and played with the hands. The sound it produces is like nothing else and can be described as both tranquil/relaxing and mysterious/haunting.)
Initially, the project was to include Milana on piano, vocals, and Hang Drum; however, the project quickly outgrew this concept, so cello (played by Yamaha artist Yoed Nir), drums and additional percussion (provided by Phil DiMercurio), and a second vocalist (Canadian songwriter Alexa Ray) was added. This dynamic enterprise, which involved generating over three hundred pages of scores for the instrumentalists and vocalists, took more than six months to complete and is arguably Milana’s most ambitious project to date.
Following the tradition of creating albums which tell a story, each track of this reveals a chapter from this mystical journey. The opening track, “Time,” perfectly sets the stage, with its steady pulse, like the ticking of a clock, and the dark cello and haunting vocals lending an air of mystery. With “Journey,” our travels begin. There is both breathless anticipation and hints of the perils that might lie ahead here. “Abracadabra!” is an incantation meant to ward off any such misfortune; the piano repeats the word over and over. “Behind the Mirror” suggests a portal to another dimension; the music captures the combination of wonder and trepidation that one might experience at the crossing. Brilliant splashes of sound in “Challenge” represent the obstacles that must be dealt with along the path; “Imminence” hints at something frightening or dangerous menacingly nearby.
The next three pieces are my personal favorites. “Encounters” suggests wondrous encounters with the magical creatures that live in this remarkable world, the jocund, jazzy tone implying that they pose no threat to us. “Lost and Found,” seems to compare the life we have left behind with the discoveries we have made. The piece opens with a plaintive, questioning melody, introduced by the piano and exquisitely accompanied by the cello and percussion, then segues into a dazzling strain painting a glorious picture of the beautiful world in which we find ourselves now. The lighthearted “Enchantment” is another buoyant, jazzy number; why would we ever want to leave a place that makes us feel this good?
The next three tracks form a kind of a triptych, three individual parts that combine to form a unified whole. With “Spirito Incantato,” we whisper the magic words that will bring the enchantment back. Of course, some “Witchcraft” and “Alchemy” might be required. Alas, with “Returning” we resume our normal lives, with feelings of nostalgia and melancholy after leaving the magic land behind tempered by gratitude for the experiences we have enjoyed and the lessons we have learned. This expansive collaboration between the piano, cello and vocals brings the album to a powerful conclusion.
“Abracadabra” is unique sonic experience, complex and satisfying. And while it’s available for streaming on all major platforms, please consider purchasing a copy of the limited-edition CD, which includes a booklet filled with stunning artwork – one piece for each track – contributed by Anastasia Frenkel. Very highly recommended!