Harmonia Mundi
274 1260

label website

Modern-day Bucharest. The cafes are filled with Zigeunerweisen, gypsified tourist fare that gives the real Gipsy masters the fantods - but the money's good and the tourists don't know any better. Erik Marchand of Les Balkaniks does - know better. If his CD Pruna will make good money remains to be seen. By not catering to the lowest common denominator and casting his net far and wide -- Bretagne, Banat, Moldavia, Romania, Thrace -- the French lead vocalist has fearlessly assembled a stellar cast of authentic Gipsy musicians on double bass, guitar, trumpet, sax, accordeon, cymbalom, clarinet and various percussion.

Not as left-field unhinged as The Balkan Messengers, not as off-the-rocker as BeshodroM, this ensemble's closest soul mates are the French super group Bratsch and Aksak and the infamous Taraf de Haikous from the Balkans. From traditional Hungarian horas, sirbas and gavottes to svedlinkas, Arabian taqsims, Serbian kolos, Turkish improv and Makedonian dances, these musicians celebrate spontaneity, instrumental virtuosity and completely unpredictable time gates that patch together disparate tunes without hesitation but in marvellous ways.

You hear echoes of Yuri Yunakov and Ivo Papasov's ruchenitsa madness, odd-metered exploits full of impossible trills that are executed by saxophone, clarinet, trumpet and accordion alike either solo or in full parallel stampede but always recognizably folk-dancy, just in double-time. For the true hammer, there's even two Carlos Paredes Portuguese fado ballads turned doina waltz, then 5/8 Balkan, then Hungarian czardas. The brazen inventiveness of it all.

On top of it all is the French Erik Marchand vocalizing to anchor everything semi-recognizably on Brittany soil. This is the real deal, present-time creativity Gypsy-style, my favorite kind - full of pathos and unruly playfulness, played by Gods who think they're mere mortals. In my mind, I'm sometimes composing the track listing of my own funeral - and it's definitely this type of fare I'd want to have played if I'm lucky enough to have the time to make fancy arrangements (and any friends left prepared to show up in whatever forsaken place I've dropped the shell). For juiciness and energy, there's little that can surpass a Gipsy troupe in full steam. Pruna is a great example of what that can sound like. It's like holding an apothecary with tinctures for strong emotions, stacked in complementary pairs, and swilling them all down in one sitting: Sadness, joy, exuberance, melancholy. Pop the cork on Pruna and let it rip. Viva la anti-kulturniks. By the time it's over, you'll have been deep in the elsewhere our site celebrates on its home page.