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Julian Kytasty
Black Sea Winds: The Kobzari of Ukraine
November Music (

Kobzari is the collective term for singers of a native guild, who accompany themselves on a lute-harp called the bandura unique to Ukraine. Originally the kobzars were special keepers of religious, moralistic and historical songs that did not overlap with other folk repertoire. By definition kobzari were blind, but modern day students and other torch carriers are not necessarily. Nor is Julian Kytasty, a New York resident, who also does not claim absolute authenticity to the lineage in his work. This accomplished player uses recent authentic instruments, and their presentation alone on this disc is worthy of new ears. Two types are featured; the reed flute called sopilka and the bandura. The latter dominates this set and has a variable course of unstopped strings, totalling 21, 30 or 55 in all. Seated in the lap and cradled in the arms before one, it is plucked upright with both hands like a small guitar shaped harp. The bandura and its bass and soprano sisters are delicate sounding with a timbre somewhere between the Russian balalaika and the Finnish kantele.

Black Sea Winds is a mixture of three musical elements: solo bandura or sopilka pieces - as dance instrumentals and virtuoso improvisations; authentic songs from the old tradition with bandura accompaniment and other adapted folk tunes or originals by Kytasty. Paying hommage to his teacher, the late Heorhiy Tkachenko (1898-1993), Kytasty performs three dumas, or epic songs known to the kobzari: "Cossack Lament," "I'll walk through the meadows" and "The brother and sister." The duma can typically express Ukrainian blues as a palpable sorrow, bitterness or wanting, but also at times humor and pathos. Here they would wake most westerners to their unacknowledged blessings in life. Though not without considerable beauty and sophistication, still the prevailing mood of Black Sea Winds is mournful. Even the humorous "The Fatal Porridge," about a dying man who does not make it to his last requested meal due to its lengthy preparation time, is set, like most of the songs here, in a minor key. November Music has conceived an attractive and substantial paper-bound sleeve for the release and filled it with Kytasty's excellent essay on the kobzari subculture along with his song notes and translated lyrics. This is an eminently collectable edition for the fancier of quiet moving song by a memorable, affecting voice. - Steve Taylor

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