Romanian Gypsy Sounds from a Bygone Age
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cd cover Ion Petre Stoican
Sounds from a Bygone Age, Vol. 1

Romica Puceanu & the Gore Brothers
Sounds from a Bygone Age, Vol. 2
Both titles Asphalt Tango (

In reissuing these rarities in Romanian Gypsy music, Asphalt Tango celebrates some influential but little-heard musicians. Violinist Ion Petre Stoican recorded one LP in his life and this is it, remastered. It was a protracted project, recorded between 1966 and 1977.
His fourteen-member taraf is large for its time, yet the sound here is not as orchestral as the numbers might suggest. Individual instruments are brought to forefront reflecting Stoican's democratic music philosophy. One of the most fun tracks is "Hora de la Oltenita," a swingy Gypsy jazz number with snazzy accordion, trumpet, and violin solos. Cimbalom player Tony Iordache contributes some glittering solos throughout. Stoican was not known as one of the most technically dazzling violinists, but he made up for this with his rhythmic drive and willingness to experiment. His gritty assertiveness and rustic aplomb set him apart from more virtuosic musicians.

Romica Puceanu made her name singing the songs of the poor Gypsy suburbs of southern Romanian towns. Her collaboration with violinist Aurel and accordionist Victor Gore lasted from 1940, when she was a mere fourteen years old, until her untimely death in a car accident in 1996. This release, consisting of music from analog recordings of the '60's, captures Puceanu's warm, flute-like voice and the crisp, spare accompaniment of the Gore brothers and their ensemble. Puceanu's supple phrasing and flair for improvisation earned her the title of "Billie Holiday of the East." Indeed, her rendition of a song such as "Inima Suparacioasa" has all the vocal pathos and simplicity of structure of a good blues song. She shows a lighter, more playful side in "Hora Dinspre Ziua," ornamenting the ends of the sweeping phrases with fluttering trills. Several instrumental tracks highlight the tight, plucky playing of the Gore brothers' taraf.

The CDs are packaged with an appealing retro look. The discs themselves are designed like little LPs. The liner notes by Grit Friedrich contain more rambling biographical anecdotes than hard information, but on the whole, these two releases make one hope that Asphalt Tango has more in the hopper. - Peggy Latkovich

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