Stian Carstensen
Farmers Market
Winter and Winter, Germany

cd cover Although based in Norway, the band consisting primarily of Norwegians, Stian Carstensen's Farmers Market plays music from or influenced by the music of Bulgaria, characterized by a variety of modes and asymmetrical rhythms, traits shared with some Middle Eastern music. The current lineup of Carstensen (keyboards, guitar), Finn Guttormsen (bass), Nils Olav Johansen (guitar), Trifon Trifonov (woodwinds), and Jarle Vespestad (percussion) is augmented by a variety of guests from Bulgaria, including a 5-voice female choir, a tabla player, and an entire bitov orchestra of gadulka, gaida, kaval and tapan, with Carstensen on tambura.

Farmers Market does not often stick to traditional treatments of traditional music (though they are fully competent to do so). Instead, they are undoubtedly among the most creative artists exploring Bulgarian music today. Unlike the contemporary wedding band movement (Ivo Papasov, Ferus Mustafov), Farmers are not creating a genre; rather they tend to reinvent a new synthesis with each song.

Farmers Market begins with a duet between Trifonov's sax backed by Carstensen's accordion; free meter yields to a Bulgarian dance tune in 4/4 (a rare meter for FM) with harmonization reminiscent of Romanian music. The second tune, danceable as a Paijdushka (5/8) features a 5-member female Bulgarian chorus backed by the band. By the third tune you realize you are not just in Bulgaria anymore: the tune in Graovsko rhythm (4/4 counted 2-1-2-1-2) evolves into a kind of psychedelic Bulgarian/Turkish/South Asian shuffle haunted by gadulka, a bowed lute, and Johansen's guitar. From this point on in the CD until the next to last track, we get nonstop Bulgarian/anything fusion. Many asymmetric rhythms are used, and FM changes from one impossible complex meter to another effortlessly, cutting to half-time, changing moods without warning throughout; no two pieces sound similar. Carstensen's chording and melodies on the banjo adds a bluegrass sound to "Monkey's Dance." Pop band instrumentation and various Western voicing contribute to the 9/8 improbably-named "Les Paul/ More John," and African rhythms underlie "The Straight One." Carstensen has delightful solos in both "New Smeseno" and "Trifonov's 5th," showing him to be not only a master of Bulgarian accordion style, but capable of blending this with others in unpredictable yet fascinating ways. They bring us back to traditional music in a slow duet with Carstensen and Trifonov, this time on clarinet. Then FM goes out on a showstopper, "Trifonov's 5th," which combines FM's seemingly default meter (9/8) with chording and voicing characteristic of Brazilian bossa nova at the outset, eventually accelerating into a blaze of Bulgarian wedding band glory.

Farmers Market displays incredible musicianship, shown individually as well as collectively by the ensemble. For those who appreciate edgy jazzed-off experiments with Balkan traditional music, this is not to be missed. - Don Weeda

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