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The Wedding Orchestra All-Stars
Thracian Rhapsody Volume 2: The Wedding
The New Wedding Music of Bulgaria Revisited

Labor Records LAB 7028-2

Bulgarian wedding music is music of celebration and liberation. The genre started with the liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman Empire in 1878, flourished and grew, then was supressed under the Communists. When Bulgaria was liberated from Communism at the end of the Twentieth Century, the music sprang back with even more vigor.

Bulgarian wedding music is primarily played by Roma musicians, who have gleefully merged the diverse origins of the music with jazz, pop, and contemporary western art music. The results, exemplified by the all-star line up on this album, are nothing less than dazzling.

Although the term wedding music is incomplete (this music is used for all major celebrations: baptisms, wakes, as well as for weddings), Volume 2 focuses on the celebration for which the genre is named. Taking as their inspiration Igor Stravinsky's "Svedebka" (known by Western audiences by its French title "Les Noces"), these musicians offer a musical portrait of a traditional Bulgarian marriage celebration. This album is far less self-consciously artsy than Stravinsky's work (these are musicians who, unlike Stravinsky, actually make their living playing for the audiences from which the music sprang). From the opening interplay of gaida virtuoso Alexander Raitchev and the Christo Yotsov Trio, the listener is treated to vibrant, complex and thoroughly listenable compositions. This is music that successfully bridges the gap between art music and folk music, offering the best of both worlds. There is neither a dull nor an academic moment to be found. The musicians play with a joie de vivre that borders on the manic. Every note belongs (and with virtuoso solos offered at breakneck tempos, there are plenty); every phrase has something significant to add to the whole.

It is hard to pinpoint highlights in a record of this caliber, but here are a few: Raitchev's gaida work on the first track, Yildiz Ibrahimova's otherworldly vocalese (sometimes sounding like another instrument, sometimes like a voice), Ivo Papasov's alternatingly joyful and mournful clarinet, and the generally high musicianship of all of the artists. The sixth track, an all-out ensemble medley of traditional dance tunes (although with varied treatments: jazz, funk, classical, as well as traditional Balkan and Near Eastern), is a fitting climax to the whole album, and it is followed, by a 'party's over' tune for stragglers fittingly called, "The Sun is Coming Up."

The liner notes by Eric Salzman are informative, concise, and well-written. Overall, a superb album and a worthy follow-up to Thracian Rhapsody Volume 1.

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