Elkarlanean / Spain (www.elkarlanean.com)

cd cover One of the oldest active Basque ensembles, Oskorri has grown over the years from a precise and talented revival band to one of the more innovative groups in the region. This septet spans the instrumental range, from traditional instruments like gaita (bagpipes), alboka (a reed instrument similar to clarinet), txalparta (tuned wooden planks), percussion and accordion, pan-European folk instruments like violin, guitar, ocarina, flute, and mandolin, and more contemporary sounds like saxophones, electric guitars and bass, and a vocal range from folk to ecclesiastical to pure pop. Their feet are firmly planted in Basque turf, but on Ura they have grown much further out than in previous recordings, in part because of the influence of longtime friend of the band Kepa Junkera, whose own experiments in international expansionist musical theory shows all through this recording.

The first sign of this expansion comes from the cast of international guest artists: Junkera's accordion, of course; percussionist Glen Velez; Bulgarian reed man Ivo Papasov and the foot-stomping Michel Bordeleau (of Canada's La Bottine Souriante), who offer unique sounds and a few odd meters. Because Oskorri itself is such a large and talented ensemble to begin with, these guests never overpower the basic sound of the band, but they do lend it many different characters as they wend their way through this collection of traditional and original tunes. Papasov and Velez bring an interesting flair to a number of songs, particularly "Albaiterua," where the dominant Basque rhythm and melody shift to occasional flashes of middle eastern and Bulgarian meter, at times bordering on jazz, but never far from the dance tune. The only real imitative moment comes with the humorous "Kaka Zuretzako," which is pure La Bottine, from the lively foot tapping and accordion groove through the big horn sound, all in service to an old broadside about the commonality of rich and poor alike; we all have to take care of our "kaka."

But the best of Ura is pure Oskorri. It's the ancient ode to spring "Udabarriko Lora Ederra," with its driving electric guitar, lively fiddle, insistent bagpipes and pounding txalparta as it weaves between folk, rock and jazz. It's lush ballads like "Ingrat Baten Maitatzeak," with gentle vocals and a simple guitar line punctuated by flutes, fiddles and frame drums. It's song after song that is tempered by a deep love of tradition but driven by the irresistible urge to be fresh, to make sure the tradition is never locked in a museum or relegated to a library basement. - CF

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