More than 20 years have passed since the four-tambura-slinging Eredics boys (three brothers and a cousin) and bassist Attila Buzás first came together just north of Budapest to reinvigorate often overlooked Central and Eastern European folk music traditions as the band Söndörgő. The last half-decade has been a particularly busy one, seeing the release of two studio albums, a couple of intercontinental tours, and plenty of gigs all over Europe.
On Live Wires, the finest moments of some of these European travels have been crisply preserved, a cross-section of five years of live performances fueled with tight, hypnotic energy and ready to turn all preconceived notions of Hungarian music upside-down.
Söndörgő draws from traditions beyond those of their native land, reaching through the Balkans and eastward to Turkey and nearby Romani groups for inspiration. Unlike the well-known brass bands of that same region, though, Söndörgő‘s music centers around instruments in the mandolin-like tambura family, here supplemented primarily by flute, saxophone, accordion, and hand drum. No matter which of these instruments takes center stage on each of the tracks of Live Wires, Söndörgő plays with almost supernatural speed and agility, its members nimbly plucking away at tambura strings as a shepherd flute zips around in perfect harmony.
Bright and clear on studio albums, Söndörgő flourishes in a new way on these live tracks, with a number of guests. A lithe saxophone introduction from Ferus Mustafov on “Dada Sali” rises on the energy of the crowd, and closing track “Jovano” celebrates Söndörgő‘s 15th anniversary with a once-in-a-lifetime set of Central European superstars, including Vujicsics Ensemble, Mustafov, and guest vocalists who belt out a swaying melody with the kind of power that can’t build inside of a sterile recording room.
Every song Söndörgő plays beckons the audience to dance, clap, or otherwise keep moving, whether it’s the lusty Croatian tune “Marice”, the slow and sensual “Farandole”, or the mischievous, constantly accelerating “Voje Sasa”. At every speed, an earthy quality permeates Söndörgő‘s songs, making them irresistible. This is Söndörgő‘s signature Eastern European roots music, as carefree and natural as ever, but with stronger bass and jazzier woodwinds boosting each performance.
Perfection reigns on Live Wires beyond simply the skill of the performers. Sound quality and production values are impeccable, and the work put into boiling five years of touring down into twelve tracks shows. The entire album sounds clean, each track well-preserved, a portal to that specific time and place rather than sounding like an archive of performances past.
Twenty years have passed for Söndörgő, and 20 more may follow; it’s not just inertia holding the band together, as Live Wires demonstrates. Genuine passion, immaculate technique, and room for world-famous guest saxophonists add whole new layers and aspects to a rich history of musical traditions. Perhaps more importantly, the vibrancy and enthusiasm recorded here show that the members of Söndörgő love what they do. It’s impossible to tell from listening to each track what was recorded at the beginning of the decade and what comes from last year; Söndörgő‘s energy never wanes, and neither does that of their audience.
With another international tour already underway on the heels of Live Wires, Söndörgő simply can’t be stopped. The band is having too good of a time to slow down, and so is anyone who listens.
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