Jeszcze Raz - Balagane
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Jeszcze Raz
Balagane
Audiogram, Canada (www.audiogram.com)

cd cover In both Polish and Hebrew, the word "balagane" means either "big mess" or more colloquially, "whorehouse." It is also the name of the second album from Montreal-based group Jeszcze Raz (pronounced YES-chay Raz), led by the irreverent poet/songwriter Paul Kunigis. Balagane is a playful collection of rollicking songs driven by elements of Jewish, Gypsy, and Arabic folk, with hints of French chanson, jazz and blues in the mix.

This array of influences is skillfully woven by polyglot pianist and songwriter Paul Kunigis. Polish-born of a Catholic mother and Jewish father, Kunigis was raised in Israel where he went to a school run by French Jesuits and took Hebrew studies on the side. He plays his upbringing like a trump card, laughing, "I had a first communion AND a bar mitzvah!" with self-conscious irony. In his music, Kunigis acknowledges the myriad of sometimes opposing cultural forces that created him. Most of all he identifies as an outsider.

Songs in Polish, Hebrew, Arabic and French lambaste bar-stool philosophers, celebrate the lives of rag-pickers and prostitutes, and dream improbable dreams of a lasting peace in the Middle East. The impassioned lyrics are bittersweet and gutsy: Kunigis pulls no punches. In concert, he likes to say with a twinkle in his eye, "My music is not politically correct. It's just correct."

Balagane was produced by Yves Desrosiers of Lhasa de Sela fame, and features Desrosiers on guitars. The elements that made Lhasa's La Llorona sound great (including a careful attention paid to arranging and dynamics) make this album a success, too. A song that starts with bare-bones percussion and bass might evolve into a raucous burlesque sing-along with swirling violin, snaky accordion and sleazy bass clarinet blats. Percussion lines laid down by the rock-steady Rémi LeClerc are played over in such a way that individual songs integrate klezmer, Latin and Arabic influences effortlessly.

If there is one shortcoming to the album, it is that you may recognise some concepts from earlier tracks returning in some of the latter songs. But Kunigis and Jeszcze Raz can hardly be classified as one-trick ponies. No, they are the whole crazy circus. Balagane, indeed. - Philly Markowitz


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