Orkestina - Transilvania Express
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Transilvania Express
World Village (www.worldvillagemusic.com)

cd cover This is a respectable debut from a cosmopolitan group of musicians. The four players who make up the core of Orkestina come from Bulgaria, Ireland, England, and Spain, and their approach to Balkan music reflects this multi-cultural make-up. Fiddler Colum Pettit from Cork could fool anyone into believing he grew up in the Balkans with his wild Gypsy flair. Londoner Jon Davison's accordion playing has the pulsating swirl of a blender set on puree. Bulgarian Ivan Dimitrov easily handles the gadulka, a 13-stringed fiddle that was originally used to accompany dancing bears. Spaniard Manolo Lopez has a muscular sense of rhythm on double bass.

They mix horos, Irish reels, freylakhs, and love songs as if the genres have always gone together. The arrangements are competent and functional without being flashy. Though all the musicians and their guests are more than technically proficient, they do not let technique get in the way of the spirit of the music. The ensemble playing is just messy enough to remind you that this is, after all, party music. Mihail Bilnikov contributes some fine clarinet playing and Aziz Khodari's percussion is crisp and driving.

The lengthy (over ten-minute) medley entitled simply "Mary" runs through a slow 3/8 klezmer wedding hora, a faster Rumanian hora with some improvisatory Belgian and Celtic stuff thrown into it, and then ends with a rousing 7/8 version of the reel "Fairheaded Mary." It all flows organically, with nothing sounding pasted-on. "Sirba (Serb)" is a sly little Rumanian melody that builds to a fever pitch, threatens to fall apart in the middle, and then rallies for a big finish. Tension and interest are maintained through the tune's nine-plus minutes by frequent key, meter, and tempo changes.

While there are no real surprises on this disc from the standpoints of instrumentation or arrangement, Transilvania Express has all the good-natured jamming that you would expect from a collection of traditional Balkan music. Throw in the Celtic element, and you've got something even more fun. - Peggy Latkovich

CD available at cdRoots

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