Fanfare Ciocarlia - Queens and Kings
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Fanfare Ciocarlia
Queens and Kings
Asphalt Tango

Ioan Ivancea, the clarinet-playing leader of Fanfare Ciocarlia, would be intensely proud of, and deeply honored by, Fanfare Ciocarlia's fifth record. Queens and Kings is a buoyant tribute to Fanfare Ciocarlia's patriarch, who died in October 2006, and who graces the cover of the CD with his wife. On the world stage, Fanfare Ciocarlia are renowned for their Gypsy 'speed-brass,' horns played at such a breakneck, thundering pace that one cannot help but be taken up in the headlong rush of the sound as well as amazed that the band manages to keep the horns in such precise discipline. With the passing of Ivancea, the remaining band members vowed to honor his legacy by inviting musicians from the wide Roma diaspora. Legends answered the call, among them Esma Redzepova from Macedonia, and Saban Bajramovic from Serbia. Also present are purveyors of the younger generation, such as Mitsou (who now fronts the Hungarian electro-gypsy fusion group Mitsoura), and Kal (whose recent hit "Duj Duj" gets a massive big-band here, fronted by Mitsou and Florentina Sandu).

Romania is a complex country: unfinished buildings from the time of Ceaucescu's rule still stand next to abandoned cranes; Bucharest's gray buildings burst with colorful advertising from the major multinationals; maxi-taxis, buses, and Dacias in various stages of (dis)repair vie for room on two-lane roads alongside farmers and Gypsies with their horse-drawn carts. Most people do not make much money, and the rush of goods into Romania tantalizes the populace with the hoped-for prosperity thought to accompany EU membership. Still, as Garth Cartwright's wonderful liner notes that accompany Queens and Kings state, Gypsies have been relegated to low social status in Romania; and despite Fanfare Ciocarlia's international success, the band had never played Bucharest until December 2006.

The wide swath of musical guests on the Queens and Kings project enter seamlessly into the Fanfare Ciocarlia sound. On "Que Dolor," marvel at how the flamenco guitars and hand claps of the French band Kaloome add a body-swaying intensity to the already funky horns. Enjoy how elder stateman Bajramovic's voice sounds remarkably strong during the giddy run of "Sandala," and how Esma Redzepova's assured vocals reinforce her status as "Queen of the Gypsies." From track to track, Queens and Kings shows the remarkable strength and color of Roma diversity, which only adds to the already special nature of this tribute.

But naturally, the focus behind the showcased voices here has to be on the band itself, and its arsenal of horns and percussion. Critics fall over themselves to describe the influences laced into the group's music: Balkan, Ottoman, pop culture detritus, Turkish, jazz; nothing seems to escape incorporation. Right from the beginning of Queens and Kings, as Dan Armeanca begins to sing "Kan Marau La" ("I Will Beat Her," the tune of which obfuscates the rather grim title), the horns blend upward behind the chorus in a shining break that could easily have been ripped from a techno dance track. The arrangements are consistently top-notch, and the band lovingly presents Ioan Ivancea's own stately "Farewell March" to their departed leader. Special mention must be made of the album's closing track, Fanfare Ciocarlia's version of Steppenwolf's "Born To Be Wild," which, with its over-the-top joyous vocals and intoxicating horns, is surely one of the greatest all-time cover versions ever made. Having just returned from Romania, I can also vouch that "Born To Be Wild" is also the perfect music by which to swerve your Dacia around wandering cows on Romania's rural roads. As a whole, Fanfare Ciocarlia's Queens and Kings is a monumental album to the Roma's perseverance in the face of a changing world, and the unifying power of music. - Lee Blackstone

CD available from cdRoots

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