Balli Tradizionali in Umbria
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Various Artists, collected by Giussepe Michele Gala
Balli Tradizionali in Umbria (Number 4 in the Ethnica series)
Taranta Records, Italy

cd cover Due to its central location, the region of Umbria absorbed the musical and dance vocabularies of many other regions in Italy, as well as those of other parts of Europe. The result of such interaction is that the music of Umbria often sounds more generically Italian than, say, the distinctive sound of the music of Calabria or Piedmonte. With this pan-Italian cosmopolitanism comes a wonderful vigor, which is captured beautifully on Balli Tradizionali in Umbria (Traditional Dances of Umbria). Unfortunately, as the well written (albeit only in Italian) notes point out, these dances are from a rapidly fading tradition, reserved only for special feasts. While there is a rebirth of interest among the Umbrians to preserve these musical traditions, they are in no means part of a day-to-day social life.

The recordings on Balli Tradizionali were recorded in the early 1990's and tend to favor the accordion, which, since the accordionists captured on here are so good, is by no means a drawback. The dance forms offer no surprises: the saltarello, valzer, tarantella, and others are the backbone of Italic traditional dancing. This is not to say that this disc lacks variety. On the contrary, sticking to the old forms demonstrates the power of the music of the days before the ubiquitous backbeat. Whether an unaccompanied accordion or a violin-led ensemble, or a mandolino-guitar duet, the tracks are all powerfully rhythmic and highly melodic.

As the music recorded here is for dancing, the harmonic language tends towards straightforward tonic-dominant relationships.

One of the delightful surprises comes from how southern one track may sound (track 7, a saltarello played by Vittorio Galantini in Nocera Umbra, with its jangling tambourine and pulsing accordion sounds like it was collected in the hills well south of Napoli) then how northern another sounds (for instance track 14, a Quadriglia played by Italo Baffetti in Casterl Rigone, which has an almost Alpine feel to it), and the fact these all were taken from the same general region (although the notes are clear that certain dances are found in certain parts of the region and not in others).

This title is part of a series, all of which highlight a different Italian traditional music, all of which are worth listening to. However, this is an exceptionally good disc, as all of its tracks are accessible to the average listener with a healthy interest in Italian music. - Erik Keilholtz

The Taranta Ethnica Series is available from cdRoots


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