Taraf De Haïdouks & Kočani Orkestar Band of Gypsies 2 Review

Released 2011.  

BBC Review

Master musicians combine to create an orchestra of ultimate dimensions.

Martin Longley 2011

The disc's title makes reference to the Jimi Hendrix live album of 1970, although this sprawling combo must surely vie even with that particular psychedelic blues super-group in the stakes of sheer excessiveness. Here we have two of the finest (and best-known) groups of gypsy master-musicians combining into a single orchestra of ultimate dimensions.

Taraf de Haïdouks represent the old guard of Romanian string-orientated dazzlers, whilst the Macedonian Kočani Orkestar exemplify the power of marching street brass. It's no ill portent that each combo provides 13 members for this 26-piece explosion. The two outfits had already collaborated a decade previously, working on a trio of tunes on the original Band of Gypsies album by Haïdouks. This time around, all of the pieces have been arranged during a fully co-operative session, thereby creating the sense of a completely united ensemble. From a meeting between Christians and Sufis, romping around the whole Balkan region, into Turkey, the album plunges deeply into a broad flow of styles, ending up with a massively entangled thrust.

Right from the opening I Am a Gigolo, matters are complex, as an almost Appalachian hoe-down melds with Balkan kitsch. The vocals, when they enter, match melodramatic display with an emotional poignancy. Several songs begin with sparse opening statements, whilst the listener tenses for the inevitable unleashing of the fully orchestrated forces: laughing clarinet, flying fiddle, spider-web cimbalom (similar to the hammered dulcimer), belligerent horns, and a walloping sousaphone that will draw in any stray New Orleans brass-lovers.

It's rare to hear this kind of music interpreted by such a large group, and with no-one stepping on each other’s boots. There's the ability to combine the sound of an unhinged drunken celebration with the highest level of super-accelerated virtuosity. Even though the beer might have been flowing copiously, no notes were harmed during the imbibing process. This is partying at its highest precision level. The jostling arrangements sound intuitive, though the darting solos miraculously avoid collision. Such an overload can be gloriously exhausting. Dynamic pauses recur, always providing adequate breathers between each sprinting outbreak. During the making of this review, I took a break where an old side one might have ended, so overwhelming are this disc's riches.

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