Romanian Jazz: Jazz from the Electrecord Archives 1966-1978

Various Artists
Romanian Jazz
Sonar Kollektiv

What a mighty impressive start! For a moment I suspected jazz from the land then ruled by Ceausescu might have been as wonderful as he wanted everybody to believe ‘his’ Romania was. Then I looked up Guido Manusardi, whom one reviewer has supposed was the wonderful tenor saxophonist on the opening track. Manusardi turns out to be Italian, and a very considerable pianist. There is reason to believe the tenor saxophonist, of dark and resonant sound, is actually Jerry Bergonzi. I want to hear more of that long-past quartet now. I should have had more info, though, as reviewer.

The pianist-leader on the second title does, however, turn out to be not only Romanian, but (leaving aside questions of a possible grandfather) a reasonable candidate for the title “Father of Romanian Jazz”: Johnny Raducanu. He has a lighter sound than Manusardi, and with it he swings quite as much. Given that Milcho Leviev came out of Bulgaria around the same 1960s-’70s period, jazz of a high quality seems to have been current as good music in some areas behind the then-Iron Curtain (Leviev’s recent solo piano CD of the music of Don Ellis emphasizes his greatness as a jazz pianist, and the long-standing lack of wider publicity that’s denied a wider hearing to some of the best jazzmen alive now in the USA).

Elsewhere in that past breeding ground for all the vices governments can develop, the Soviet bloc, jazz was frowned on and threatened with jail, and became a vehicle of dissidence. Czechoslovakia comes to mind, and so does some decidedly rebarbative stuff I’m certainly glad was around to offend officialdom. Rather a laugh hearing it, once upon a time, but not normally to be listened to for long these days.

There’s nothing of that sort here, I have to insist. On the present CD there is the Orchestra Universitatii de Jazz din Illinois, and that turns out to have been John Garvey’s Illinois State University Jazz Orchestra, in the late 1960s and glorious and unsung. One or two reviewers have heard the original ten-inch (25cm) vinyl issue, and only from them do I know that the six minute ‘performance’ reissued here has been cut back from an actual performance about twice as long. And that this isn’t the best bits but a very well edited half of something which was (and if it can be found, is) of the same standard all the way through. There’s beautiful alto playing over a terrific score, so characterfully individual it might have been taken for rather a Romanian product up to American standards, rather than American and free of stock and hackneyed features. Other reviewers have mentioned a trumpeter in the Illinois band who subsequently and deservedly had something of a reputation. Remember the other guys whose names I’ve not been able to find.

I’m fairly sure already that there should have been at least two CDs rather than just one, with more Manusardi here, and Raducanu’s “Balada”, which opens with bass and then goes into a big band arrangement with strong bass clarinet presence in the reeds and impressive solos on guitar, trumpet, and trombone

Multitracking or looping renders irrelevant whether Aura Urziceanu is singing in any known language on the first of two tracks which feature her, where the tenor solo is impressive, and the trombone, over a rhythm section grounded on electric piano. On her other number, “Nu-Mi Cere Sa Cint”, Ms. Urziceanu is revealed as a very noteworthy jazz, and scat, singer, and Romanian as a language which can be swung,

The Paul Weiner Quartet starts with piano, bass, and drums, presumably drawing on Romanian ethnic sources for intriguing rhythm patterns and thematic material not unlike that which allowed the soloists in Ms. Urziceano’s band to show their class. Elsewhere, there’s Marius Popp, clarinet and wild flute, and the so-called Vocal Jazz Quartet, a singing group rather than four instrumentalists who protest a lot. They work in a nice enough Balkan Astrud Gilberto vein, but then there’s a tenor saxophonist playing with some fire accompanied by a good old-fashioned electric piano-cum-organ and rhythm. This is more fun than the earlier titles on the set, which are frankly more invigorating than it’s safe to take for granted.

In days distant if not necessarily dim (maybe 1960, to judge from reading jazz reviews from before my time), selections of odd tracks from this and that LP which had come and gone would appear, the dominant major companies supposing there was no longer a viable market for the original complete albums. Jazz writers of that time would recommend some of these samplings, by names not known to a wider public, as better than nothing, though in some places of exceptional musical worth. And here I am, forty-five years later, glad to have heard everything on this set, wishing, however, that a two- or three-CD set had been compiled from the most unexpected source in Romanian state record company archives, but certainly recommending the disc.

RATING 8 / 10
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