Eastern European Music

Tylkomuzyka cds

<B>DIKANDA</B><BR>Muzyka czterech stron wschodu <B>BENTE KAHAN</B><BR>Yiddishkayt
The Jewel  Di Galitzyaner Klezmorim

1. The Jewel by Yarehma
2. Muzyka Czterech Stron Wschodu and Usztijo by Dikanda
3. Nokh Amol and Di Galitzyaner Klezmorium by Di Galitzyaner Klezmorim

  Yahrehma are the third group of musicians out of the Music Academy of Krakow to come to our attention: like Trio Galitzyaner they are primarily a klezmer outfit who play a large repertoire of traditional tunes - klezmer and Balkan tunes mixed with originals with a bit of an 'Oriental' flavor.

 A woman plays a big influence in the Band: Danuta Smetana or 'Duda' plays violin as well as occasional synthesizer, sings, and composes. Pawet Kurasiewicz plays clarinet and composes, including the title tune 'The Jewel'.  Marcin Wiercroch plays accordion, Jerek Wilkosz bounces between bass and standup double bass, and Kreysick Kossowski plays drums and other percussion instruments: all this helps the band's music, giving it a great drive.

 Cut 13, 'Out of Bridge', shows what the drummer can do as a composer: this song shows great jazz influences and is the only tune with a guest artist, Sebastian Kowol, who plays electric guitar. He reminds me of Jeff Beck in his blow-by-blow days.

 The musicianship throughout THE JEWEL is superb; the violin and clarinet producing sounds you don't expect to hear in a klezmer band.  Yarehma has definitely been listening to jazz and rock groups: some of their 'traditional' tunes really rock.

 How to describe the music of Dikanda? Acoustic folk rock meets haunting Eastern European female vocal? Klezmer rock? All of the above, plus more, comprises Dikanda's special sound - and that's only the first song on their album USZTIJO.  Violin, accordion, standup bass, guitar and frame drum are featured; yet they rock like crazy - and meld perfectly with that haunting voice! 

 Not much in the way of liner notes on the two albums; but apparently Dikanda is a word in a non-existing language and holds no set meaning.  Their idea was to play music from across Eastern Europe, so songs and melodies from Poland, Bulgaria, the Ukraine, and Macedonia meet Jewish and gypsy music.

 Dikanda really knows how to build drama as well: check out cut 4 on USZTIJO, a cut called 'Amoriszej': it sounds like something American Jay Ungar might have come up with, but more adventurous with the percussion.

 Some bands take three or four listens of the complete cd to become fully involved and to appreciate the music: Dikanda had us all in the palm of their collective hands before the first song was halfway played.

 Dikanda's earlier work MUZKA CZTERECH STRON WISCHODV is more traditional (little or no rock influence), but is no less interesting: there's a real variety of sounds: haunting vocals, sparse instrumentation, and an almost eerie feeling. Sometimes the interplay between the accordion and the fiddle provides such feeling with so few notes - and then suddenly we're dancing. 

 Never a dull moment when listening to Dikanda!

 Trip Galicyjskie is another great group originally out of the Academy of Music in Krakow Poland. Unlike some groups from the same school such as Dikanda, Trio Galicyjskie confines itself to klezmer music: they play primarily traditional tunes that would have been played in Krakow's ghetto before World War II, but they also contribute some originals.

 Their playing is flawless and precise: of course you expect precise when listening to trained Music Academy graduates;  but you don't expect a sense of fun and swing which Trio Galicyjskie has in spades.

 The group consists of Mariola Spiewak on clarinet, Gregorz Spiewak on accordion, and Rafael Seweryniak on bass.

 One big difference between these groups coming out of Poland today and their forbearers is the presence and importance of female musicians in the lineup.

 It'd be tough to choose between their two albums, as both have a variety of sounds with an equal number of tunes familiar to American listeners, and others unknown here.

 Let's hope these Polish groups get to tour the USA, as they have a sound very different from similar groups working in the USA and would really light up some eyes and ears here.

 Although Bente Kahan's YIDDISHKAYT cd was sent to us from Poland, she's based in Oslo Norway (though her two longest-time collaborators are from Poland).

 On YIDDISHKAYT Bente, who plays guitar but is primarily a singer, teams with the Gtertruds Gypsy Orchestra. Also raised in Oslo, this group has a slightly unusual lineup, as they have a cellist. To get the full effect of this addition, listen to the string section (two violins, cello, and bass) work out on cut 8, the instrumental 'Bulgar' - wow! Very unusual for a klezmer tune.

When I was young the Yiddish language was still common in America: Yiddish was the language of the European Jews. But now Jews in Israel speak Hebrew or, like in the USA, English. Yiddish was disappearing, but apparently some people are trying to conserve Yiddish in song, if nowhere else.  Bente Kahan is one of those people. 

 Though klezmer makes up part of her repertoire, she is versed in many other Jewish vocal styles; some like the sounds I heard as a child.

 Many American vaudeville players were Jewish and it's these styles which Bente Kahn's singing reflects upon: some showbiz dazzle, some ballads, some weepers - the type of song which speaks of great heartbreak whether you understand the words or not.

 Bente was trained as an actor in New York and Israel and YIDDISHKAYT is a concert with much drama, which Bente and Fjertruds Gypsy Orchestra first performed in 1990.

 Georg Michael Reiss, the clarinetist in the orchestra and one of its leaders, has been collaborating with Bente since 1983: they have their act down pat: much variety, skill and nostalgia - hard to beat.

Entofon Records


1. Standard by Nigun
2. Vasar (The Fair) by Karpatia

  'The Standard' referred to in Nigun's album of the same title is the 19th century Eastern European Jewish musicians' set order for playing weddings and other social functions.

 Nigun begins with the Dorna - a semi-improvised song originally based on a Transylvanian shepard's tune; then this blends into a hora - a type of dance tune common to Hungary and Romania.

 Nigun consists of sax, guitar, bass (stand-up acoustic) and drums: the effect is the sound of a 1950s or 50s jazz group - in fact, I'd call STANDARD a jazz album, and a fine one at that.

 Many American and British jazz groups have tried to play music blending ethnic roots with jazz, and the results, though interesting, were usually lacking.   Nigun makes it work; perhaps because they're coming from the ethnic traditions they are interested in.

 Since all four musicians didn't grow up in the same small village, they bring in different tunes not usually played together - so this is klezmer? Well, yes, but it's also jazz: some American klezmer bands bring in jazz musicians, but their blend of jazz and klezmer isn't as smooth as Nigun.

 Karpatia is a group of folklorist musicians centered in Budapest Hungary who are interested in the folk music of the Csango people - a Hungarian-speaking ethnic group from East of the Carpathian Mountains in an area known as Moldva.  Their music is all-acoustic: no attempt is made to modernize or soup up the sound.

 On VASAR (THE FAIR), Karpatia plays the musics of the many ethnic groups who've lived in this area; thus an imaginary fair is set up as you listen to the many different kinds of songs.  

 Karpatia consists of nine members; unfortunately only six showed up for the group photo. There are several pages of liner notes explaining the instruments, who plays what, the style of music, etc.; but only one slim page in English; so we're left to guess as to what's going on.

 The recording quality of VASAR (THE FAIR) is top-notch: some of the tunes are haunting, especially 'Bukovina' and 'Lanybucsuztatato'. For hora  fans, 'Swingaeaknka' gives an unusual dance mixed with a subtle swing sound featuring flute, jews harp and saxophone.

 Karpatia is a good group and VASAR is a particularly interesting recording: each time we listened to VASAR we appreciated it more and more.

Nectar, The Vine and Wintersongs
Kitka: Nectar

by Kitka
KITKA: Wintersongswww.kitka.org KITKA: The Vine

 How can a group of ladies from the San Francisco Bay Area possibly sing the folksongs of Southeastern Europe? They could never understand the anguish and pathos or even the joy of these deep-rooted songs (which of course aren't even in English): one might think it couldn't be done or could only be a pale, simple imitation - but Kitka has worked very hard over the years to prove their critics wrong.

 Several years ago when their founding musical director left the group I thought they were doomed: though a good vocal group, they were 'most as good as the real thing' from Eastern Europe.

 Now they are one of the best groups in the world, singing the polyphonic vocal harmonies of Eastern Europe and known for their group harmonies, not for their soloists.

 They have ratcheted up their skills in that area also - particularly on THE VINE and NECTAR.

 And even if you're tired of the same old Christmas songs, give WINTERSONG listen - it's an extraordinary achievement, and unlike any other Christmas album you may already own.

Urban Gypsy

Shukar Collective - Urban Gypsy

by Shukar Collective
World Music Network  www.worldmusic.net

  Traditional Romanian gypsy musicians and music meet modern elements such as rap, r&b and rock in URBAN GYPSY: can this really be happening?

 Music for dancing bears meets the urban jungle here - and these aren't just kids playing round with some old folk records and a turntable: Tamango, the group's leader, is 62 years old; others are as young as 24.  Jazz and underground avant guard musicians/singers are also involved in URBAN GYPSY.

 This is not music for your sister's wedding: I can see Shukar Collective playing at the Knitting Factory in New York City, but not in Peoria.

 With URBAN GYPSY by the Shukar Collective, we don't miss Frank Zappa anymore!

World After History

by Boris Kovac & La Campanella
Piranha      www.piranha.de

  What do you get when you blend a group of multi-ethnic Yugoslavians well-trained in the various musical traditions of classical, folk and pop of Eastern Europe with Mediterranean influences?

 The answer, astoundingly, is jazz: possibly as great a jazz cd as Mile Davis' SKETCHES OF SPAIN - but instead of jazz being crafted onto Spanish classical music, as with SKETCHES, these musicians truly feel what they are doing.

 WORLD AFTER HISTORY didn't just happen because some great arranger got an idea: this music has been growing organically for many years as these musicians moved around Europe playing together and with others. (Funny: the world  'jazz' is never mentioned in the liner notes or promo pamphlet - but anyone listening to this wonderful music would immediately think 'jazz'!)

 No, the music doesn't always swing - but it's been 50 years since all jazz swung, and band leader saxophonist Boris Kovac certainly can swing: in fact the whole group can.

 Besides also sax there is acoustic bass, acoustic guitar, accordion and drums.

 Most of the music tends towards chamber jazz. mostly mellow, but tinges of 60s post-bebop sax solo get 'out there' on occasion.

 Boris Kovac hits a home run on WORLD AFTER HISTORY modern jazz listeners won't want to miss it!

Sounds from a Bygone Age V. 1

Ion Petre Stoican

by Ion Petre Stoican
Asphalt Tango Records  

 Growing up in the USA, you'd think the music on SOUNDS FROM A BYGONE AGE V. 1 was older than it is - but it's from the 1970s. Americans and Western Europeans are nearly always shocked to find out how far behind Eastern European countries were under communism: Romania being one of the worst.  Traditional music was pushed as government policy.  The advantage to this is some wonderful music was recorded that would have been lost otherwise. 

 Ion Petre Stoican's story is remarkable: he was not part of the music establishment in Bucharest and would never have gotten a chance to record if he had not helped catch a spy. For payment he asked for a chance to record an album's worth of music.

 Many of Bucharest's finest wedding and party musicians were recruited for the effort: men who would not normally 'lower themselves' to work for a musician from the provinces.

 Toni Iordache, the top cimbalom player in the country, anchored the group, which counted fourteen players - twice the number you'd expect on such a recording. But the government was paying, and you did what the government told you to do.

 Fans of George Zamfir's traditional, early recordings will recognize many of the types of tunes played on  SOUNDS FROM A BYGONE AGE V. 1: horas and other types of dances.  These songs (some do have vocals, Stoican singing in falsetto - very popular at the time) would have been played in taverns and at weddings.  There are no panflutes; however the violin of Stoican takes most of the solos.

 Bucharest musicians of that time say Stoican was not a virtuoso comparable to the best of Bucharest, but to these American ears he sounds great.

 The entire recording has a strength and vitality sorely lacking in so man other recordings we hear every day. For fans of Romanian music, SOUNDS FROM A BYGONE ERA V. 1 is a 'must have'.



by Warsaw Village Band
World Village/Jaro


 How do you define a roots band from Poland that mixes in turntable scratch technique with traditional music from the villages? Is it polka, or klezmer meets hip-hop?

  The answer to all questions s 'no': this is the music from farther back in time than polka or klezmer, and turntable scratching doesn't have to mean hip-hop.

 If you know Bulgarian and Russian choir music, imagine that style of vocal blended with some Tuvan string music, and a dash of klezmer, some primitive drumming, some primal scream therapy - and you begin to scratch the surface of the music created by The Warsaw Village Band.

 Knee fiddle meets hurdy gurdy cello and drum: this is a wild, crazy ride; 'hard core folk music' indeed.   Do I hear elements of Icelandic and Irish music? Where are we?

 UPROOTING is incredible and crazy: you'll be scared, in love, excited, exhausted - and there's an ever-changing sound on UPROOTING which keeps you on your toes.

 Warsaw Village Band is currently on tour in the USA - don't miss them.

 Are they the future of folk music? If this is the spirit, there's hope for the future of folk music after all!