Kalan 2001
label website
This CD might as well be called "Enter at your own risk". Fitting subtitles? "Apt to fry aural synapses." "Cauterizes frayed nerves." "Causes dubious hallucinations." In short, the kind of stuff your scribe snorts to chase the tail of his personal pet dragon. It's plainly legit as far as recreational substances with well-traveled music adventurers go. But most mainstreamers would descend into violent spasms imbibing its uncut potency. It's probably fair to say that for most intents and purposes, music such as this is outlawed as too strange and far off the map to be fit for general consumption.

This is not highbrow condescension speaking. It's simply repeat experience. Having jumped Bulgarian wedding music à la Ivo Papasov and Yuri Yunakov on unsuspecting visitors like a cold frog, most fail to grok the appeal of its bright yellow-green alien beauty.

Too frantic is the most common commentary. Too - weird and other. However, occasionally a truly outré vagabond passes through chez nous whose chimes go off like a Las Vegas slot machine when I play this type of music. It's to those intrepid explorers of the aural arctic, deep deserts and remote plateaus that the BalkanMessengers beckon.

For those hip to Bulgarian clarinetist Ivo Papasov's and accordion magi Neshko Neshev's Orkestra Trakya, the quartet of BalkanMessengers is the next incarnation or installment. Stationed out of Marmaris/Turkey, it unites Neshev and Radi Kazakov -- who played bass guitar with Papasov for 10 years -- with Radi's nephew Jan Kazakov on drums and demented Turkish violin fiend Nedim Nalbantoglu. His two prior albums with accordionist Robert de Brasov on the French Al Sur label are prized highlights in my personal collection. I've been on the lookout for the next Nalbantoglu album ever since. Thanks to Tash Goka of Divergent Technologies for hooking me up with this one!

Blend Macedonian Gypsy music and its Greek and Turkish odd-metered dance influences with Free Jazz and the melancholy Balkan chord progressions first introduced to Western ears by panflute protégé Gheorge Zamfir. Then pepper this stew with breakneck speed duels between the protagonists; stir in reckless disregard for prettiness and the occasional quarter-tone temper; then garnish with a cryptic question mark of "what planet did this unhinged horde beam down from?".

All the liner notes shed on this mystery? A terse reference to a two-year stint in which these musicians have collaborated as the messengers from the Balkans. Today's album is the first official testament to their nocturnal club gigs for the Turkish underground cognoscenti. This is highly virtuoso music of stunning rhythmic and harmonic complexity. It routinely undergoes unexpected meter changes whose flawless ensemble execution recalls the mysteriously synchronized movements of large flocks of birds. They likewise change direction on a dime as though psychically linked up on to respond in the most exacting manner to invisible cues. Such feathered formations retain precise spacing amidst such quicksilver maneuvers. Just so, many of the jagged, sputtering, blurred speed runs that unfurl according to alien scales occur in either unison or interval-staggered parallels between violin and accordion. This suggests nearly superhuman ability - or exhaustive practice.

Equally typical for this concertized form of Bulgarian Wedding music are the impromptu sightings of distinct dance melodies that arise in the midst of dissonant Taqsim melees. The elusive musical logic that binds together all this seemingly obtuse patchwork becomes cognitive only in a certain state of no-mind suspension. One now suddenly sees secret geometries unfurl and discerns immutable laws of progression applied. Instinctively, one can then nearly predict the next meter change, the next asymmetrical embellishment, the next counter-intuitive shift from major to minor scale and back.

Howver, listen to this music in or with your mind, and you'll be quickly out of it. Your mind that is. Robbed thus without volition, you'll lose your nerve and good mood, too. So unless this vague prospect of temporary insanity appeals to you, better pass this one up. On the other hand, if you want to sample musical artistry of the very highest caliber as it is practiced by these veritable masters, BalkanMessengers will take you straight to the top. It's an acquired taste for sure. But once you've been bit by this Transylvanian bug, you'll be marked forever. The choice is yours. As for me, it's far too late. Check out those hickie punctures on my neck...