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The UnKlez Report, July 1998

Note: Don't click on any links until the entire file loads, or else the links won't work. I apologize for the inconvenience. If I moved the links into the table, you wouldn't be able to see a list of the reviews you are awaiting. I am hoping that this is a friendlier approach, within the odd, and rather limited limits of HTML and the web. ari

Einstein's Little Homunculus / Don't Ask
Fanfare Ciocarlia
Kocani Orkestar / A Gypsy Brass Band
Ferus Mustafov / King Ferus
Sabah Habas Mustapha / Jalan Kopo
Muzsikás / Morning Star
Yehuda Poliker / Live at Caesaria
Song of the Crooked Dance: Early Bulgarian Traditional Music, 1927-42

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For purchasing folk music albums, you might want to explore "Folkweb"

Every so often I manage to sneak in a review of an album that I think klez lovers will love. Over the last year, there have been many such albums, but the volume of klezmer has been so high that I have felt too guilty to devote much time writing about anything but. And then, this week, the rotation on the CD player contained occasional snatches of klezmer (I'm getting really into the new Yid Vicious CD, out of Wisconsin), but most of the time it contained the new Sabah Mustapha, and Laurent Brody's new collection of Bulgarian 78s, and some neat avant jazz. I have to write about what I actually listen to. Here are some of my favorites:

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Yehuda Poliker / Live at Caesaria (NMC 20254-2, 1997). When I left Israel in 1978, I lost touch with the music scene that had played such a big part of my life. Poliker is one of the artists to appear since then to catch my attention, and he is one of my favorites. Melding Greek and Middle Eastern melodies with rock, he has forged a uniquely Israeli sound. As the child of Holocaust survivors, but whose parents came from Salonika rather than further west, Poliker also represents the first Israeli-born generation to follow the founding of the State. At times, he is very much the teen, even now ("I want also," "Free means entirely alone"), but there is also some amazing instrumental stuff, his thoughtful material ("Hurts, but less," "Radio Ramalah") are among the best of modern Israeli song-writing. This album contains a generous helping of his best songs, plus lots of good live energy. It isn't as driven as Shalom Chanoch's amazing "Live" album of 1989 (one of my favorite all-time live albums), but it is a wonderful introduction to the many sides of Poliker's music and lyrics. In a year when most of my albums have been in storage, this has been an especially pleasant companion, and is frequently on the CD changer for weeks at a time. For more on Israeli music, you might also want to check out Larry Yudelson's Radio Hazak site.

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Muzsikás / Morning Star (Hannibal HNCD 1401, 1997). I first discovered Hungary's Muzsikás through their Lost Jewish Music of Transylvania album. Then I discovered the album released in the US as (I believe--my albums are still in storage--it's the album after "Blues for Transylvania") "The Prisoners Song". It blew my mind. The combination of the band's mastery of Hungarian folk forms and Marta Sebastyn's voice creates a sum total that amazes. This new release is merely great. Gentle Hungarian rhythms, new explorations for the band and for Sebastyn. I've heard Sebastyn in other settings, but this is the one where she sounds (to my ears) most relaxed and most authentic. Comfort music. Deep comfort music--I'm always hearing new stuff--incredible fiddle, stuff happening on the second fiddle or bass, or with her voice. and deeply comforting. This is the next best thing to seeing the band live.

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Ferus Mustafov / King Ferus (Ace Records, 1995). I have a friend in Western Massachusetts who plays in a traditional Irish band. Heads off to Balkan Camp most summers. Always has ears for anything traditional-folky or building on same. One day she puts on something new, from Macedonia. It's a bit like her friend Yuri Yunakov, who used to play with Yvo Papasov, the legendary Bulgarian party animal. The liner notes understate the truth: "Here is the first CD-release by Macedonian gypsy sax & clarinet king Ferus Mustafov, whose wailing improvisations and dynamic mastery of repertoire have made him a must-call session-ace and undisputed born hero of a thousand wild wedding feasts. Macedonian macedoina = Let's Chochek!!" In truth, this album is even better. It is impossible to put down and impossible not to dance. Mustafov is the pied piper of balkan wedding dance music. This CD will blow your socks off. It's also sufficiently diverse, with some great accompanying vocals, that sometimes, you can just listen, without dancing, for the sheer pleasure of incredibly well-played, intense, beautiful music.

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Song of the Crooked Dance: Early Bulgarian Traditional Music, 1927-42, produced by Lauren Brody (Yazoo 7016, 1998). There is actually a klezmer connection here, in that Brody was one of the founding members of Kapelye, one of the original klezmer revival bands. Beyond that, all I know is that she has assembled a diverse, meticulously researched and cleaned up collection of Bulgarian popular music that will erase any memory of that awful '80s pastiche, "Mysterious Voices of Bulgaria." There isn't much of the Bulgarian Village harmonies that first attracted me to Bulgarian music 20 years ago, that half-note-off harmonizing that cuts into the soul like a knife. Instead, the listener will hear a wonderful array of singers and musicians in styles ranging from the Western European to clearly-Greek-influenced and all of the wonderful harmonies and gaidas and kavals and clarinets and accordions in between. Brody has intentionally over-represented some of the less common village folk musicians, recorded less than the musicians of the city (where the market for 78s lay). This makes for a much more interesting album, and gives a much broader picture of Bulgaria during that period. And, although Brody explains that the original recordings off near-dead 78s were done under extremely sub-optimal conditions, the general lack of noise, and the extreme harmonic range here are also astounding. My only complaint is the minor nit against mediocre typgraphy. In particular, the typesetter seems to have been limited to letters with the hacek (the "chevron" accent above some letters) in one font--sometimes this is distracting; at other times, song titles can be actually hard to read. This is a most-unfortunate marring of excellent liner notes. This is a must-have CD for anyone interested in music from Eastern/Central Europe or wondering whether or not such music will speak to them. It will. Grab this CD.

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Sabah Habas Mustapha / Jalan Kopo (Omnium OMM 2020, 1998). Alas, there have been no new recordings from Three Mustaphas Three in many long years. Our fridges stand, desolate. One member of the quiescent balkan/world music pop band is playing with London's terrific Merlyn Shepherd's local klezmer ensemble. (I do work that klezmer connection in when I can). Sabah Habas Mustapha released an album of Indonesian/worldbeat pop a couple of years ago. It was great. Here's another. I like it even more. There is a danceability, but also a listenability, that makes this special. The combination of Javanese instrumentation and worldbeat pop and pure Mustaphas fun that make the sounds flow like good wine on a cool evening in Serbia. And while the album's token Country/Western number, "Too Much Luggage," is obviously tongue-in-cheek (and the genre much improved by the Indonesian instrumentation), it can be easy for a Mustaphas' veteran fan to take a while to notice how expressive One Mustaphas One's voice is, and how well-crafted the songs are. This is lovely. Smooth. I've been listening to it all week and so far, even my friends like it and want to run out and get their own copies. And, if it isn't as all-over-the-map zany like the old Three Mustaphas Three albums, that isn't all bad. This may not be Soup of the Century, but it very much damn wonderful worldbeat of the next. You can find out more about the goings on of Sabah at (granted, it's one of the world's least readable websites, but it's the only source for this info).

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Einstein's Little Homunculus / Don't Ask (1997). Take some impeccably played folk music from the British Isles. Note that periodically the two people playing flute and pennywhistle switch abruptly to soprano and bass sax (that's the one that looks like a silver clarinet, and the one with lots of bends, right?). Add some decidedly fun songs and lyrics--an AA Milne poem, "Disobedience" set to a jig; the folk music semi-hit, "Disobedience" and lots more traditional and transmogrified music, and you have ELH. This particular CD even includes a rare item from the Folgarish people's traditional canon, "Mit an Spong" (with a sponge). When I saw the band, recently, they claimed that popular demand was insisting that they stick more closely to Folgarish instrumentals when they were violating that particular set of traditions. Needless to say, there is also the token klezmer song (a sher, performed in a delightfully untraditional manner), and in concert they are even known to hit the Balkan tune circuit. This is one of the most absolutely delightful CDs I've purchased in a long time. I seem to purchase it over and over--people walk out with it. But you can find out more about the band and get your own copy via their website at If you visit the klezmer shack between midnight and 6am, there is a link to a song sample at the top of the main klezmer shack page.

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Kocani Orkestar / A Gypsy Brass Band (Long Distance, 1994, 592324)
Fanfare Ciocarlia (Piranha, CD PIRI254, 1998)
There is little music in the world better for dancing than the brass band music from Eastern Europe that (because I first encountered it there) I tend to describe, in my head, as "Serbian Oompa music." You can hear strains of it in New Orleans brass bands. The American band, Zlatne Usted, does a wonderful local version of the genre with their own harmonies and innovations. Here are two excellent examples of the genre, as performed by Gypsy bands, one from Macedonia (Kocani Orkestra, slightly rougher, more "traditional" in some ways) and Romania (Fanfare Ciocarlia, definitely some western pop influences, and major doses of humor, but not so much that this isn't still traditional). Fanfare Ciocarlia, in fact, did the soundtrack for the remarkable film about the recent breakup of Yugoslavia, "Underground" (No, I do not care to discuss Kusterica's failings in addressing many issues in that film. Germane to this review is only the note that the band appears in almost every scene.) This music is expressive, it compels movement, but rather than the familiar rock, 1-2-3-4 thumpa thumpa, there is a flow and a rhythm to Balkan dancing that introduces a feeling of gliding and motion and rhythm that are entirely different. And yet, even this, frenetic though it often is, is more stately and slower than, say, the tradition represented by Ferus Mustafov, who uses less brass, skips the oompa part, and speeds things up even further. Both of these records are impeccably produced, lovingly (and typgraphically and graphically beautifully) annotated. The Fanfare Ciocarlia album also include vocals and what sounds like "wedding rap"--the equivalent of what a Jewish badkhn might do at a traditional wedding.

Notes by Ari Davidow, 7/12/98

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