Eastern European Wildness from Harmonia
Cleveland “trans-Balkan” band Harmonia’s new album Hidden Legacy has an oldschool, no-frills look. And prosaic titles like Romanian Ritual Dances and Ukrainian Mountain Music offer not the slightest hint of how intense and exhilarating the music is- although Moldavian Stomp does. If you want to do the Moldavian Stomp – which turns out to be a flute-driven dance number, similar to an English sailor’s hornpipe – head over to the back room at the Ukrainian National Home, through the restaurant at 140 Second Ave. just north of St. Mark’s, on May 19 around 8 to see the band, who will show you how. Some of the rustic, often haunting old melodies here sound like the roots of noir cabaret music, not to mention Chopin and Haydn. Cross-pollination seems to be everywhere, intentional or not. There’s a Ukrainian polka that could pass for Irish, and that whirlwind suite of biting Romanian dances which serve as a perfect illustration of the convergence of Balkan and traditional American roots music that Eva Salina Primack has championed recently. Alexander Fedoriouk’s plaintively resonant cimbalom and the split-second precision of the twin fiddles of Steven Greenman and Jozef Janis soar over the frequently lush backdrop of Walt Mahlovich’s accordion and bass from either Branislav Brinarsky or Ken Javor. It’s blue-collar party music from a community that still celebrates its roots – and there’s a lot to celebrate here, fifteen tracks’ worth .
Chanteuse Beata Begeniova adds a dramatic intensity on several of the tracks, especially In the High Pasture, a darkly lush anthem that would make a great rock song, and a surprisingly fresh remake of the old gypsy standard Djelem Djelem which they do as a tango. Fedoriouk’s most high-powered moment out of many is a lusciously suspenseful, anticipatory solo on a suite of songs from the Vojvodina region in Serbia, Benegiova taking the crescendo to its logical, powerful conclusion. Many of the tracks start out slowly with what sounds like an improvisational intro before locking into a groove in a split second and speeding off from there. Tempos switch in a split second, moody melodies employing brooding, bracing, often apprehensive chromatics, notably the tiptoeing, rather creepy Seven Step Hora (not to be confused with the twelve step one which is only played when liquor is not available). There are also a couple of long, slowly unwinding vocal-and-cimbalom ballads; the album ends with an absolutely ferocious series of dances from Hungary and then some furtively scurrying ones from the Ukraine. You want adrenaline? This album is for you.
Update: Harmonia is also doing a NYC show this month at Hungarian House, 213 E 82nd St. on May 18.