New York Music Daily

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Tag: albanian music

A Spicy Midsummer Taste of Golden Fest at Lincoln Center Out of Doors

It’s a fair bet that rustic Carpathian acoustic music-and-dance ensemble the Cheres Folk Orchestra, Malika Kalontarova’s otherworldly tar lute-driven Tajik group, explosive Georgian crew the Dancing Crane Ensemble, and exhilarating Albanian music stars Merita Halili & the Raif Hyseni Orchestra have played Golden Fest, the nation’s most electrifying Balkan music festival, which takes place every January in Brooklyn. So it’s no surprise that these four acts’ show Sunday afternoon turned out to be the highlight of this year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival so far.

The Tirana-born Halili has a wide-angle vibrato that she engages like a high-speed guitar tremolo for a spine-tingling effect that sparkles with microtones along the sharpest edges. Hyseni, who hails from Kosovo, played the entire show with a big smile on his face: if you had his speed on the accordion, you’d be smiling too. He saved his two most supersonic, almost menacingly chromatic flights for one tantalizingly brief solo, and an intro anchored by Halili’s stark vocalese,\ where the rest of the band looked at each other, amazed and mystified about where they were expected to leap in.

When the moment came, they were ready, every bit as adrenalizing as the vocals and accordion. Their reedman doubled on clarinet and alto sax, often playing each during parts of the same song with a relentlessly volleying, microtonal, melismatic attack. Their Albanian bassist and guitarist held the center throughout the tricky changes, propelled by a jazz drummer with a playfully uneasy, boomy thump on his toms. They opened with a brisk ba-bump number that edged from blithely major-key to bracingly minor, then later bounced their way through a dance tune that had a happy-go-lucky Mexican feel. But the best numbers were the wild ones in 7/8 time, the whole band stampeding furiously as if to get out of the way of the Soviet tanks that drove this music underground for so long.

Turbocharged Albanian folk has made a big comeback since the fall of the Iron Curtain, but many indigenous musicians steeped in dancer/bandleader Malika Kalontarova’s spare, hypnotically insistent Tajik Jewish repertoire have emigrated to Israel. This group is one of the few in this country to play this magical material. The group’s three tar lute players would often triple the lines of an allusively modal melody line over similarly stark drumbeats that varied from a straight-up thump to more intricate metrics. The effect was as exotic as it was antique: tar music from Iran and Kurdistan are reference points, but both of those cultures use scales closer to Arabic modes. It was easy to get lost in.

Both Cheres and the Dancing Crane Ensemble often took a seat when their dancers cavorted across the stage to recorded music; considering how fast this show was pulled together, there may not have been enough time to rehearse all the material. When the two groups played, drums and accordions figured heavily through a mix of spare mountain melodies and more straight-ahead minor-key material that edged toward the Balkans in places. The Ukrainians put rippling, incisive cimbalom front and center. The Georgians, in particular, took advantage of their time onstage to showcase the allusive tonalities of their brooding choral music, and the high-voltage moves of their dancers, guys in quasi-military getup with bullet embroidery, women floating and fluttering across the stage in a series of colorful long dresses.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors continues tomorrow, August 12 with afternoon performances on the plaza: picturesque Americana songwriter/fiddler Amanda Shires at 2 is the highlight. Then out back in Damrosch Park popular, lustrously harmony-driven Americana rock veterans the Jayhawks hit the stage at about 8. Avoid the atrocious 6 PM opening act – the worst band ever to get booked for a Lincoln Center show – at all costs, even if that means you don’t get a seat.

Eva Salina’s Scorching Saturday Night Debut

Eva Salina Primack has been the go-to singer on the New York Balkan music circuit for awhile now, and has an upcoming collaboration with contemporary Bosnian accordionist Merima Kljuco. And somehow she’s finally found time to put together her own band, simply called Eva Salina. Their live debut Saturday night at a benefit for the Eastern European Folklife Center at the Ukrainian National Home was as both as feral and subtle as you would imagine from a group including Frank London on trumpet, Patrick Farrell on accordion, Rich Stein of Gato Loco on percussion and Ron Caswell playing simple, steady oompah basslines on tuba. Unlike most bands with a charismatic frontwoman, this one is just as much about the instrumentalists as it is the singer, Primack shimmying with her eyes closed, lost in the music while Farrell and London traded incendiary chromatics, the slinky vamps rising from a flicker to a flame.

The show was a characteristically eclectic mix of songs from across Eastern Europe, across the decades. Although Primack has a stunning vocal range in whatever language she chooses to sing in, this time out she aired out her lower register, sometimes brooding, sometimes brassy, sometimes sultry with just the hint of a rasp as the show went on. The effect was most impressive on a trio of songs in Romanes by the late, legendary Serbian gypsy crooner Saban Bajramovic. It takes nerve for an American to cover him; for a woman, it’s doubly difficult, but Primack nailed it, diving low and angst-fueled and eventually rising triumphantly on Me Mangava Te Kelav, a song whose gist is essentially “life sucks but let’s marry off my son and then party.” The tricky tempos of Rovena Rovena, a lament for a mother who’s left her family to go off to Germany in search of work, didn’t phase anybody, Primack poignantly evoking the pain and loss of a young girl left to fend for herself as London and Farrell sparred with an increasingly agitated series of chromatic riffs. And Pijanica, the lament of a drunk whose inability to pull himself together is gradually costing him everything, built matter-of-factly from a clapalong groove to a ferocious trumpet crescendo – as this band did it, at least he got to go out with a bang.

The most haunting part of the night was a pair of Bulgarian songs, Lenka Bolna Lezhi and Kate, Katerino, the first a plaintive account of a dying girl whose doctor eventually promises to heal her – if he can run away with her and marry her. The second implored a girl not to marry the local teacher, who has no house, and will probably drag her from town to town where the locals might think she’s a vampire (these songs’ lyrical content is sometimes as lurid as the Appalachian gothic that Primack also gravitates to, notably with her AE vocal duo project with Aurelia Shrenker). Ironically, the band did the most bizarre song of the night, the Albanian folk tune Trendafil (“Throwing your hair behind your eyebrows like a crown/What did the boy do that made you not talk to him?”) completely straight-up, the catchy major/minor harmonies of the accordion and trumpet so seamless over Stein’s relaxed backbeat groove that it was practically new wave rock. This band’s next gig is at the Jalopy on May 3 in a doublebill with Michael Alpert and Julian Kytasty’s excellent duo project.

Raya Brass Band were next on the bill. Their new album Dancing on Roses, Dancing on Cinders tops the list for best of 2012 so far (along with Chicha Libre’s new one, Canibalismo). As you would imagine, their Balkan jams are pretty amazing live. Now why would anybody want to blow off such a good band? It’s called having a life. Getcha next time, guys. Same to you, Forro in the Dark.