Sprig of That’s Eight Threads Showcases Twin Cities Composers

What distinguishes the Minneapolis-based trio Sprig of That is the sound of the tabla—a pair of tuned hand drums originally from India. The distinctive booming and patter of this percussion instrument, with a marked contrast in timbre and depth between the drums, sometimes gives the illusion of more than two hands at work. Those are the hands of Krissy Bergmark in Sprig of That’s first full-length album Eight Threads, with Isabel Dammann on violin and vocals, and Ilan Blanck on guitar.

Comprised of new music by eight composers based in the Twin Cities, the mostly instrumental Eight Threads follows Sprig of That’s 2020 EP Untold, and their 2019 folk-flavored self-titled debut EP. The compositions take inspiration and are loosely connected by themes of melancholy, social justice, and the global repercussions of the pandemic.

In striking contrast to the purely instrumental tracks, Yigitcan Eryaman’s Adalet is the highlight of the album. The addition of Dammann’s rounded vocal line to the trio’s prevalent foundation of guitar and violin arpeggios with the multifaceted sounds of the tabla imparts to the album a stronger sense of purpose. Eryaman’s vocal writing lends well-articulated melodies for Dammann to interpret, which she does with heartfelt tenderness. Throughout the song, she reaches a slight falsetto on the word adalet (justice, in Turkish), almost infusing the lyric with a tone of lament. That detail makes the song stand out from the rest. The Turkish lyrics, however, are confusing: the last verse reads “But, if all my paths lead to you / Then only you know what my end is / So tell me, what kind of justice is this?” Presumably, the ‘you’ in the English translation refers to justice itself.

Sprig of That--Photo by AJ Williams

Sprig of That–Photo by AJ Williams

Kashimana Ahua’s The Only One—the other vocal piece in the album, sung by the composer in a dark-hued tone—pays tribute to those who have made sacrifices in the name of civil rights, and to “The First or The Only Ones:” inspirational figures who have devoted their lives to a cause, or who have ascended to a position from which members of their race or gender have historically been excluded. In her liner note, Ahua singles out the late Ruth B. Ginsburg and John Lewis, and Vice President Harris.

The tabla is the linchpin for the instrumental component of the album. In the opening of Zack Baltich’s Thorough Ghost (other ppl), Bergmark creates short cycles in which the percussion swells up and wanes, as if reflecting the breath or pulse of the music. Adam C. Ferguson’s 8 ‘Structures’ features a short solo in which you can hear the rapid fluttering of Bergmark’s fingers on the smaller drum and the deep resonance of the left-hand drum, with pitch shifts accomplished by sliding the heel of the hand across the drumhead.

Asuka Kakitani’s The Tree in Front of My House represents the beauty and stillness of the composer’s tree in Minnesota as the leaves change colors through the seasons. Tentative phrases on violin and guitar establish a chord progression that is soon joined by the tabla for a richer texture, as the pattern is repeated. Minor chords from Blanck’s steel-string guitar introduce a contrasting mood, and that is the strength of the piece. Halfway through, huffy rock chords from the guitar cut in, with an anxious violin wailing over them.

Asuka Kakitani--Photo by Jaime Kahn

Asuka Kakitani–Photo by Jaime Kahn

There is a darker mood in Tarek Abdelqader’s End of the Day, which takes the relatable subject of the change of plans brought by the pandemic. The piece opens with a sampled heartbeat pattern that is later imitated by the tabla. A distant and sorrowful violin melody carries the subject’s melancholic mood and introduces the main material, with smooth transitions between high and low notes in Dammann’s phrasing. The violin theme returns with variations in tempo and a slightly more upbeat character—perhaps a nod at our collective will to persevere in difficult times—until the music disintegrates near the end.

But despite the trio’s unique instrumentation and Bergmark’s performance in particular, Eight Threads makes for an uneven experience. The strength of Adalet suggests that the project might have greatly benefitted if the group had gone fully in that direction: exploring the interplay between the instrumental group and Dammann’s vocals for a more defined indie pop/Indian classical/folk crossover act. It feels like the missing element, and I anticipate the full blossoming of that potential in Sprig of That’s future music.


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