Canada is a hotbed for Romany jazz, due primarily to the influence of French music coming in through Quebec. Canada is also home to many excellent groups who play music similar to or influenced by Romany sounds, notably klezmer and Turkish music. Monteal-based Turkish music duo Ihtimanska are a prime example. Ariane Morin plays alto sax and kaval flute; Yoni Kaston alternates between accordion, piano and oud. Their fantastic album, a mix of brightly dancing and hauntingly otherworldly instrumentals, is streaming at their Bandcamp page. It’s a revealing reminder how richly influential Turkish music has been on cultures thousands of miles on either side of the border
The first song sets the stage, Morin opening it with a pensive, microtonally-spiced sax improvisation over an accordion drone, then the duo romp through alternately bubbly and more acerbic, chromatic interludes over tricky metrics. The second track is a medley that begins as a dirge, Morin first on kaval and then switching to sax over increasingly lush, anthemic accordion. The number after that is a duet for sax and oud, Morin once again starting with a brooding taqsim and then picking up the pace with a dancing flair, the accordion sometimes doubling the sax lines, sometimes spiraling off the end of a phrase.
The fourth and sixth tracks both sound like Balkan brass band songs stripped to the essentials: tricky dancing tempos, long dynamic crescendos over edgy chromatic vamps alternating with breezier passages. The fifth track, Hicaz Hümayun Saz Semaisi, is the most gripping and most Middle Eastern of all the songs here: it’s also the least rhythmic. Kaston plays cleverly ornamented, rippling piano on the final number, Morin’s introductory statement powerful and purposeful, and the song follows from there, ending the album on a wickedly catchy, anthemic note. Fans of music from anywhere east of the Danube are in for a treat with these two. Lucky Montrealers can catch them in concert on a bill with clarinetist Michael Winograd’s high-voltage group on March 26 at the Segal Center, 5170 Chemin de la Côte-Sainte-Catherine.