This album comes about as the result of a collaboration of two groups, the Taraf de Haidouks from Romania and the Kocani Orchestra from Macedonia. These two groups originally joined forces on the Taraf’s album Band of Gypsies ten years ago, where the members of the Kocani Orchestra were special guests on three tracks. Here on the long waited sequel we are treated to an entire album’s worth of a complete 50/50 partnership between the two groups in an effort to create an entirely new repertoire for themselves. The results are quite impressive, drawing from a plethora of influences that spans almost the entirety of Eastern European music; much like the literal gypsy that this album takes its name from, the music itself has traversed from several points, from Turkey, the Ukraine, Greece and beyond.
The album kicks off with “I Am A Gigolo”, a jaunty tune that starts off sounding like an old-timey honky-tonk, ragtime tune from early 20th century American jazz, with only the foreign language and brief excursions wherein the brass and percussion come pounding in to remind the listener that this is, in fact, something far different. “100 Millions” has a similar feel, largely due to the clarinet that comps along with the vocals and the cymbalum that gives the impression of a dusty old piano in a tavern in the Old West. This song, however, leans much more heavily on the minor tonality and the sharp brass that have becomes trademarks of Eastern European music to the ears of Western audiences. The frenetic pace is picked up again in the intro to “Ou Cours – Tu, Nostalgie? ApresToi Mon Amour”, which subsequently morphs into a succession of tempo changes and time signatures transformations into a dizzying kaleidoscope of vocal and instrumental flourishes and embellishments.
“Sara” begins as a gravely slow ballad, a plaintive, anguished howl that finally bubbles into a stately groove rife with the passion, a circular chord progression that rises and falls with the vocals before giving way to a section of spotlights on the various instruments; clarinet, accordion and cymbalum. It drops back into the verse without missing a beat, upping the intensity with the vocalists letting out a chantlike cry of heartache. The song closes out with a series of riffs that climb and build and end on an unresolved note. This is certainly one of the standouts of the album.
“Turceasca A Lu Kalo” manages to sound as though it is made up of several distinct pieces of music that have been effortlessly strung together with the underlying principle of rhythm and regional Turkish influence. It begins with a rapid theme heavily focused on the string section, with alternating quiet and loud passages before changing to a section focusing on the brass. This particular section wavers back and forth between what are commonly referred to as the major and minor tonalities. What could very easily be a tightrope walk between clashing tonalities is instead performed with the ease of a walk in the park. The song plays with these contrasting tonal ideas before returning to the original theme. Another standout track.
A similar objective of exploring the fringes of scale structure is achieved on “Dikhel Khelel”, a wonderful showcase of virtuosic playing that displays the talented clarinet and trumpet players. Firstly, the woodwind is played with the intensity of a snake that has been wound up and now attacking everything in sight. The brass, then, plays the mongoose that slashes and strikes at it, wrestling to the ground. Ultimately, though, the woodwind gets in the last word.
Other highlights are “Jarretelle”, a relatively light song punctuated by the hailstorm percussion of the tapan and the darbuka; “Pe Drumul Odesei”, which shifts from a slow 5/4 into a much quicker 4/4 that seems to subconsciously speed up more and more as it goes on; and album closer “Gypsy Sahara”, which pulls off the hefty task of having such a large group play together through several themes with so much finesse and giving each instrument time to shine without any single musician overshadowing any of the others.
As an added bonus, the CD also contains three videos of live performances. It’s interesting to see how these songs are reinterpreted ever so slightly. It further shows the immense talent of a group that can so easily do whatever they want with their music.
For anyone looking to get into Eastern European music that is both respectful of tradition while simultaneously looking forward into where the music can go in the immediate future, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better document of such. The technique and compositions of this ensemble are incredible. This comes highly recommended, and luckily for all of us, the group plans on continuing to collaborate in the future, so more great stuff will undoubtedly be on the way.