Music from Macedonia, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2
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Music from Macedonia, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2
Caprice Records, Sweden

cd cover Sitting square in the middle of the Balkan Peninsula, the historically contested country of Macedonia has absorbed, for better or worse, the cultures of the countries surrounding it. It would stand to reason that its music would carry the flavors of Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, and Turkey. These two releases feature some of Macedonia's most renowned musicians, and a more varied lot you'd be hard pressed to find.

Muzáfer Mahmud's improvisations on the hyper-nasal zurla (oboe) are ear-piercing. Mahmud is an in-demand wedding musician in Turkey and Macedonia. The five-member Orkestar Pece Atanasovski is a youthful group with a fresh take on traditional music - true to its roots but with a clean, linen-like softness and texture.

Ansambl Biljana has been together for over twenty-five years. Their sentimental, vibrato-laden male harmonies have a post-World War II sensibility. Multi-instrumentalist Stefche Stojkovski is an able soloist and a sensitive collaborator as he shows on several tracks on Volume 1. He accompanies vocalist Kaliopi on two tracks on kaval (flute) and tambura (long-necked lute). Kaliopi, one of the country's most popular singers, has a warm, throaty mezzo-soprano that just oozes passion.

Synthesis is an eight-member group with jazz leanings, yet hasn't abandoned its folk roots. Traditional instruments such as kaval, zurla, and tapan (double-headed drum) and close female harmonies mesh with jazz piano and drums for folk music with a contemporary sweep.

In a more traditional vein, Stojanche Kostóvski plays haunting improvisations on solo kaval and gajda (bagpipe). Six-man dance band Orkestar Ace rolls out swirling Roma music with a brash brass sound. Virtuoso accordion player Goran Alachki plays it sweet and lyrical one moment and biting and mischievous the next. Maria Kostova's restrained singing has a soft, subtle sensuality to it, with a simple bass-chord guitar accompaniment.

Between the two discs, fourteen artists and groups are represented, and there is not a weak performance in the lot. Producer Sten Sandahl has highlighted the cream of Macedonian music in all of its kaleidoscopic diversity. The liner notes are concise and informative, with a brief resume of each performer, descriptions of the instruments, and English translations of the songs, making for an all-around strong package. - Peggy Latkovich

CD available from cdRoots

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