Iva Bittová announced from the stage of the Fox Cabaret on Main Street last night that it had been 23 years since she'd last been in Vancouver. That's more than two decades too long for folks to have to wait for her singular musical and vocal talents. Last night's show, a co-presentation of the PuSh Festival and Music on Main, was simply transporting.
Bittová has been compared to Meredith Monk, Laurie Anderson and Bjork for the rich, complex and unearthly sounds she can produce with her voice--and, in the case of the latter two, for the way in which she frequently twins these sounds with the strings of her violin. However, drawing primarily on the folk traditions of her native Moravia, in the Czech Republic, Bittová's repertoire is also uniquely her own. For one thing, she has a vocal range of four octaves, which means she can trill and tweet like a bird on a wire, the crystal clear notes answering in perfect harmony the delicate plinks and plunks of her bow on the violin strings (Bittová confirmed to Richard after the concert, as she was signing our CD, that she'd sung opera, and Mozart in particular). But her voice can also descend down to hit the bass notes, emitting burbles and growls and purrs that send a shiver down one's spine, straight to the pelvis--as when, for one of her encores, she sang an amazing version of "My Funny Valentine" that combined a bit of Ella Fitzgerald-like skatting and the lower-than-low range of Sarah Vaughan.
Bittová mostly performed songs from her new CD, Entwine, the title of which comes courtesy of Gertrude Stein, and whom Bittová is presumably drawn to because of her polyvocal play with language. The whole experience was made all the more captivating by the stunning acoustics at the Fox. A single microphone amplified Bittová from the stage, with two others positioned higher, I'm guessing for reverb purposes. Truth be told, Bittová's voice needs no electronic embellishment. This was demonstrated quite clearly during those moments when she came downstage to sing directly to the audience and also when, in chanting a "lullaby" unlike any other I've heard, she waded into our ranks.
Making her way back to the stage, Bittová caressed the top of Richard's head, a benediction that only added to the magic of the evening.