m.a. recordings, 2001

label website
Like our recent review of Besho droM's Can't make me!, today's Departe de Casa /Faraway from Home -- as in the Parisian metro, not their home town Vale Mare in Moldavia --is a fire-breathing Balkan Romani production with heavy-metal emphasis on brass, compliments of flügelhorn, trumpet, baritone horn and tuba, with E-flat, B-flat clarinet and accordion for additional color and pearlescent speed runs.

Concentrating on uptempo Gypsy numbers that include a few doïnas and horas to catch our breath, the completely impromptu vocal opener soon has the contestants crack up at hearing themselves, sans instruments, engaged in a kind of Indian vocal percussion jam. This sets the tone for the remainder of this outing: Raw, utterly unplugged wing-it stuff that occasionally teeters on the edge of coming apart at the seams. Think German oompah brass band bitten by the Transylvanian undead. Inebriated witches pump the bellows at the Samhain fires, Teutonic reservation and precision of intonation gets traded for many-headed one-upmanship. How many trills, embellishments, slurs, blatty farts and metallic explosions can each musician throw into a single bar?

With loose rather than controlled vibratos, instruments likely dented and rusty though well-oiled, Formatia Valea Mare's playing has precedents in the Bulgarian Wedding music of Ivo Papasov, Philip Simeonov, Mladen Malakov and Yuri Yunakov - though the violin/clarinet/sax/accordion cadre has been replaced by brass, the odd-metered ruchenitsa rhythms favored by windplayers traded for more 4-based Thracian dance variants. Anyone insistent on marching-band precision will quickly pale and run for cover. Others more keen on unpolished chops, let-'er-rip intensity and unhinged merriment will embrace this outing. Let it be said too that the uncut sharpness of roaring brass will give tight-sphyncter'd systems a potent enema. Spitty tweeters go into lethal convulsions, lazy transient receive a much-needed kick in the arse to get with the program. This ain't pretty music by any stretch - but it's pretty darn exciting. And having been recorded inside a Gothic cathedral in French Orleans with top-end equipment, audiophile realism is at an all-time high.

P.S: Request for label king Todd Garfinkle? Devote a solo record to clarinetist Octav Cristea who stands in on the two duet tracks. That reed cat is the swingin' hammer, a suave mixture of Romani and Klezmer sensibilities. Give us more of him!