Hungaria Records (www.eletfa.org)
Winter Moons, Summer Suns: Romany Songs
Les Pommes de ma Douche
...Y Va Tomber des Cordes!
Le Chant du Monde
Kálmán Magyar, hailing from the wilds of New Jersey, is one of North America's most in-demand Balkan style violinists. On the eighteen tracks of Exposed, he makes the rounds of Eastern Europe, with music from Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Moldavia, Transylvania, and Ireland. Wondering about that last one? "Lullaby for Trixie" is "a tune based on the traditional Irish ballad sound," as Magyar puts it.
He breathes new life into chestnuts such as "Invirtita," a Transylvanian dance tune, and that "Orange Blossom Special" of eastern European music, "The Lark." His fiddling is formidable, with a sharp attack and lots of clean little ornaments. He throws in some sonic surprises, such as percussion and keyboards, which usually work well. He should, however, leave the singing to someone else. Weak vocals on a couple of tracks mar an otherwise fine release.
Kálmán Magyar guests on Natália Zagyva's collection of Hungarian folk songs, Szép szivárvány.... Zagyva has a reedy soprano with a refreshing directness in her phrasing.
Her voice holds up well against the deep, rhythmic accompaniment provided by the Eletfa Hungarian Folk Band or on its own on the various a cappella tracks. A highlight is "Megátkozott engem az édesanyám," an epic number accompanied by just Magyar's untamed fiddle and resonant percussion. Though the lyrics are printed in Hungarian, an English translation would have enhanced the average Anglophone's enjoyment of this release.
One of the most fun releases to come out in a long time is Kek Lang's Winter Moons, Summer Suns. This stuff is raw and raucous, and so rhythmic that I defy anyone to sit still while it's playing. The group consists of members of two Gypsy families, the Rostas and the Horvŕths, who live in a remote area of Hungary near the Romanian border. The vocals are rough-hewn and nasal, the rhythms are chugging and irresistible. Alain Weber writes that the producers were looking for "songs that sang of mud, woodsmoke, poor quality vodka, swear-words."
They found it in Kek Lang. The simple, joyous spontaneity of this music brings to mind early recordings of American old-timey music, if only in its staunchly unvarnished spirit. Some of the songs are downright silly, with nonsense syllables, frog sounds, and lyrics such as "I love you like a tiny lizard." A surprising version of Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind" features a gradually accelerating tempo and some sprightly scat-singing. It's more fun than anyone should be allowed to have.
But wait. Just as fun, but on the opposite end of the Gypsy spectrum is Y Va Tomber des Cordes!, a Django-inspired romp by French jazzbos Les Pommes de ma Douche. This quintet puts forth a slick, tight sound that's loaded with technique but never sacrifices spirit.
It's some really fine acoustic jazz, with snazzy turns on violin by Laurent Zeller, on accordion by David Rivičre, and on guitar by Dominique Rouquier. They blow the dust off of classics like "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "After You've Gone" and introduce some respectable original tunes. Elegant but never stodgy, it's just the thing for a hot Friday night. - Peggy Latkovich
These recordings are all available from cdRoots