Perhaps the year’s best album of Gypsy music.
Jon Lusk 2009
Given the name of the group and the Balkan beats craze of recent years – which has seen Roma music gratuitously ‘sexed up’ for digital dance floors – you might be forgiven for overlooking this record. Don’t. This is the genuine article, an understated but exhilarating tour-de-force of soulful, rootsy, Balkan brass, and perhaps the year’s best album of Gypsy music.
The impetus for this recording was a desire to capture the diversity of live music at the wild Guca festival, held annually in southern Serbia. Bandleader Ekrem Sajdic and Gypsy Groovz made a fine album called Rivers of Happiness in 2002, but for this they were joined by seven other ensembles that took part in the event, totalling 75 musicians. The resulting jam sessions were then posted on internet, and ideas about how they could be augmented flowed in from other musicians around the world.
Among those whose input was included were ten Trinidadian Rastafarians and a Punjabi sitar player called Gurdial Singh Namdhari. That may seem odd, but the Gypsy diaspora has its roots in the Indian subcontinent, and the way he echoes the high, wailing trumpet on the opening Gypsy Girl Emina is a delight.
In total, players from 14 countries took part, hence the ‘Goes TuttiMundi’ of the title. That may sound like a recipe for an over-egged pudding, but it’s a model of empathetic musical telepathy, and has a marvellously unhurried, sensual grace.
The album’s centrepiece is a 35-minute suite called Hot Water Festival (named after the thermal springs nearby) which consists of six parts that segue nicely into each other, turning one corner after another as they slowly build towards a propulsive climax. The only vocals are the musicians’ cries of exhilaration. A sinuous clarinet rises above the quaking brass before sinking back, as a trumpet takes its place. Fiddlers dialogue with the sax and trumpet players, an accordion wheezes by, a cimbalom jangles.
This is not simply a soundtrack for partying, and the four quieter pieces that bookend the above opus are filled with the kind of melancholic yearning that faithfully represents the other side of Gypsy music – what’s come to be known as ‘Balkan blues’. It’s rough and ready, with plenty of “idiosyncratic imperfections”, as festival organiser and arranger Ilija Stankovic explains in his sleeve notes. But you wouldn’t want it any other way.