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Artists Reviewed
  • Budapest Klezmer Band
  • Baba Yaga
  • Korai Öröm
  • Odessa Klezmer Band Fedor Sándor Dimó *
    Irén Lovász and Teagrass * Kálmán Balogh
    Okrös Ensemble

  • Traditional Folk Music from Hungary Mihaly Dresch
    Kampec Dolores
    Ernö Kiraly
  • Muzsikas (1999) Sebestyén and Musikás
    Okros Ensemble
    Nicola Parov
    Vizonto
    Zsarátnok

    Listen to the duda (bagpipe)

    
    
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  • RootsWorld Europe
    The Music of Hungary

    See also: Europe, Gipsy


    Vízönto
    New Wave
    Dunya/Felmay (www.inrete.it/robidroli/)

    CD cover It's all acoustic, very folky, yet Vízönto might be one of the most innovative bands around. This quartet plays violins, violas, flutes, bagpipes, reeds, guitars and lutes, bass accordion and percussion. They all contribute vocals with a rough and right delivery. The music is deeply rooted in Hungarian traditions, but they are liberal in their interpretation, in their additions of other cultures and their total willingness to just explore the outside edges of music. One second they are wailing an old bagpipe dance, then suddenly it's a Penguin Cafe Orchestra-like lilt (and in one case, a PCO tune). A dance house tune can be converted into an avant garde exploration in their world, and the nods to classical, experimental and Celtic music come so fast it's hard to decipher them. Which is probably well what the point is, to make their own music so grounded in other places that it becomes it's own musical nation. - CF

    Available at cdRoots


    MUSIKÁS AND MÁRTA SEBESTYÉN

    Musikas Probably the best known Hungarian folk-roots group in the world. They have toured, recorded extensively over a long career, and rightly deserve to be as famous as they are. Here are reviews of a number of their albums over the years.

    MUSIKÁS AND MÁRTA SEBESTYÉN
    Morning Star
    Hannibal/Ryko (1997)

    There are no surprises in yet another album by Hungarian super-folk band Musikás. Morning Star features the usual stellar performances by a group of musicians who have rightfully earned their high rank in the European folk scene. They have become familiar on screen in "The English Patient" and made so many concert appearances in sold out halls around the world that their heads must surely be spinning. So it's all the more to their credit that they remain on course, pouring out their hearts on another acoustic masterpiece of eastern European folk roots and branches, cradling the voice of Sebestyén with dark modal tunes and high spirited dance turns. One song exemplifies it all. In "Madocsai szölo-örzö" they find in three simple instruments, fiddle, hammer dulcimer and voice, all the spirits of the muse and a world of expression. In spite of their fame, their constant touring, the doors open to them to move out of the tradition, they nonetheless remain a solid example of great musicians who love their music and play it with spirit. Without guilt, they continue to prove how strong their heritage is, how vibrant and alive, how little it needs updating to remain relevant and up-to-date. -CF


    MÁRTA SEBESTYÉN
    Kismet
    Hannibal/Rykodisc

    It's been way too long since the last new album by this Hungarian singer, and this one makes the waiting pay off. Sebestyén has been bringing the sounds of her multi-ethnic country to the world for years, with forays into the music of the Roumanian gipsies, and the Bulgarian, Jewish and Magyar traditions. She has also stepped outside the tradition once or twice to experiment with new technology and modern ideas.

    Kismet continues the journey. Joined by producer, instrumentalist and arranger Nikola Parov, Sebestyén rambles around the world, picking out melodies from Greece, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Ireland. Freed of the bonds of strict hometown tradition, they are free to look at these songs in fresh new ways, try "unacceptable" fusions as well as expand on obvious ones. They put together challenging sets that bring together Ireland and Hungary or Ireland and Greece. They extend the historical connections between India and the gipsies on "Hindi Lullabye," a song she learned from an American songbook while she was visiting North Carolina. Parov deftly merges it with an old Transylvanian folk song collected by Bela Bartok, and Sebestyén sings it with a depth and beauty that revels in the freedom of his arrangements.

    If I need to name one memorable moment on the album, it would be "The Conscript," a Bulgarian song about a soldier at war that could easily be translated to a thousand troubled languages. The universal message is delivered in a universal musical setting that echoes the streets of Belfast, the fields of Serbia and Bosnia, the cities of Russia and America, the homes of Hungary. Sebestyén's voice is heartbreaking, backed by a plodding chorus and a slow, steady tabla rhythm, punctuated by a mournful clarinet. It's a perfect use of the language of music. - CF


    MARTA SEBESTYÉN
    Apochrypha
    Rykodisc

    Apochrypha is actually a collection of songs from a few albums she did with composer/synthesist Karoly Cserepes, including the landmark Emigration album from 1989. All of Cserepes' songs come from the tradition, but he imbues them with an electronic glow, surprisingly bright and rhythmically interesting in spite of the machine beat inherent in this kind of work. To this has been added violins, recorders, drums, bass and chimes, and of course, the premier instrument of this album, Marta's voice. No recordings of her's have quite captured her romantic charm like this one. The songs are simple, repetitive; meditative for the most part, and this leaves her with lots of room to move her voice around. Nothing on the album will knock you over. There are no dance hits to be found here, and thankfully so. Sebestyén's voice is a plaintive wind, a contemplative rush of memory and light. The pain of love lost in "Szerelem, Szerelem" is evident in every note she sings, the funereal loss in "Andras" almost overwhelming. This is a slow, sweet treasure, a glimpse into the ancient Hungarian heart through a silicon time machine. The only real mystery is why this is billed as a solo album. The albums the work comes from are Cserepes' as much as Sebestyén's.


    MUSIKAS
    The Prisoner's Song
    Hannibal

    The dark drone of bagpipes, hurdy-gurdy, string bass and violin is a perfect setting for ten songs of a tragic life, the prisoner of love and circumstance separated from his lover. While these are seemingly all traditional songs, the performances are far from a strict revivalist approach, bagpipes proving that they can twist out those blue notes, and a couple of numbers feature what I guess must be a bouzouki played with a slide! The strings, bass, viola and violins provide a surging percussive drive, especially on "The Cold Winds Are Blowing," a prisoner's plea for the freedom of the birds to flee his chains. Then there is Marta Sebestyen, a vocalist who has made her mark in many parts of the world both in her work with Musikas as well as solo. Her a cappella rendition of "Szerelem, Szerelem" (Love, Love) is heart-rending in any language. Choice cuts: "Rabnota" with the slide bouzouki, also featured in the slower, bluesy "En Scak Azt Csodalom," and the dancing in the darkness of "The Unwelcome Guest," which commands "You have drunk your fill, perhaps you would like to leave now. Come, let's throw out this unwelcome guest." Unlike him, Musikas is a welcome guest at my table any night.


    Transylvanian Portraits (Koch International) by Okros Ensemble is a collection of tunes and songs from the Hungarian people of Roumania, recorded in 1990 for a public radio program. Recordings were made in the studio in Budapest, and in the hills of Mera, Transylvania with local musicians as well as urban folk stars like Sebestyén (vocals), Kalman Balough (cimbalom), Sandor Fodor (fiddle) and Zoltan Juhasz (flutes).


    Mihaly Sipo (violin), Peter Éri (violin, bouzouki), Sandor Csoori(violin and viola) and Daniel Hamar (bass and hammered dulcimer) make up the core of Musikas, Hungary's most famous folk revivalists. Maramaros: The Lost Jewish Music Of Transylvania (Hannibal/Rykodisc) teams them up with some musicians from the Maros region in an effort to recover the music of the Hungarian Jewish traditions of the area. It also includes some names from the Okros album, including Csaba Okros, Balough (who's cimbalom playing on "Tune From Maramaros" is one of the highlights of the album) and Sebestyen adds a few vocals. It is the music itself that makes this album such a treat, the mix of Hungarian delivery and Jewish verve and pathos makes it stand out from anything else you have heard.


    KAMPEC DOLORES

    This band has taken the folk rock of England and the jazz of New York's downtown scene and married it with a touch of Hungarian roots to make Levitation (ReR Megacorp, 19-23 Saviors Rd., London SW2 5HP, England). Hungary's ties to the gypsies and other eastern sources bleed into everything this group does, making what is otherwise a hard rock album seem ethereal and aloof. Modal sax lines and thundering tom-tom drums clash with electric guitars and Glass-like repetitive synth lines. Over all this heavy handed instrumentation is a wispy female vocalist, Gabi Kenderesi, who also adds some violin in the mix. Musikas meets Fairport Convention, and talks about Kate Bush's punk years.

    KAMPEC DOLORES
    Zugo/Rapid
    Bahia/Hungary, via ReR Megacorp,UK

    Kampec Dolores started out in Hungary a few years back as a rock band with some Hungarian folk leanings, fronds rather than roots that made their music distinctive yet readily available to rock-weaned ears. After their discovery by Chris Cutler and their subsequent affiliation with ReR, they seem to have come around to the more aggressive, improvisational approach, and Rapid opens with a vengeful flurry of staccato voices, screaming saxes and choppy guitar licks and loopy, loping melody lines that make it fit right in with the Frith's and Cutler's of the world. Be forewarned, tracks 1 through 5 (titled "I" through "V" are not what you remember from previous KD outings. They are skewed interpretations of their sound, more innovative, but also more self-involved and pretentious. As the band looks for a new approach it many moments of brilliance, but it also stumbles into cliche (eg., 12 minutes and 12 seconds of "Silence").

    A few tracks are stunning, particularly "IV" nd it's short version "Water Country." Here the band finds those fronds again, taking what might seem at first glance a combination of old folk and improvisational daring, meandering and then bolting forward with the force of the percussion and the high plink of guitar strings, punctuated by Gabi Kenderesi's earth-bound vocals and Bela Agoston's raspy sax lines. This band once again pushes the limits and marks itself as one of Hungary's best bands.


    MIHALY DRESCH

    A jazz musician who has found his roots to be an endless source of inspiration. With his DRESCH DUDAS MIHALY QUARTET, he has found an outlet for the old music of Hungary in the modern jazz ensemble of saxophones, clarintets, flutes, drums, bass. Sometimes melodic and sometimes brutally dissonant, Dresch explains his highly improvisational music: "...I consider it important to link oneself to the native land where we were born...I feel improvisation means faith in and a bow to the wonder of the world, of nature, however painful this world may be." (This album is a 1991 release on the Adyton label from Hungary, who have carefully avoided supplying an address.)

    DRESCH QUARTET
    Sóhajkeserü
    Krem Records/Hungaroton (Hungary)

    According to my sources, Mihaly Dresch is one of the rising stars of Hunagarian music. Like the World Sax crew, he is interested in the possibilities of combining historic cultures with modern music, which is the very definition of jazz. Here the culture is Hungarian, and if you are a devoted fan of Musikas and the like, you will be able to spot the connections. If you are a jazz fan, you will appreciate the sheer exuberance of the performance. The Quartet consists of composer Dresch on saxophones, bass clarinet and some vocals, Istvan Grenesco on alto and baritone, Robert Benko on bass and Istvan Balo on drums. What goes on here is NOT folk. It is new, exploratory music for a modern world gone mad. It is loud, brash, sometimes strongly melodic, and just as often brutally discordant. The connections to Monk and Max Roach are pointed, the likely interest in the work of John Zorn is easy to imagine. The three extended cuts on this album are emotional and varied; structured in concept and free in execution. This is the first recorded work of Mihaly Dresch that I have heard, and this live set from the Koln Jazz Festival is a strong promise of renewed life, a promise for jazz becoming something more than a museum piece in Eastern Europe. - CF


    Nikola Parov has been one of the important creative forces in Hungarian music for a long time. He was one of the driving forces behind the revolutionary folk-jazz-pop group Zsarátnok, who used music from all over Europe, particularly the Balkans, to create an energetic new Hungarian music. He's probably best known outside of eastern Europe for his work with Marta Sebestyen, and most heard as a member of the Riverdance orchestra that has been bringing Celtic inspired dance to the world this last year in a high-tech and glossy stage production. Kilim (Hanibal/Rykodisc) is Parov's first "solo" recording, and here he uses many of his fellow travellers from his days as an Hungarian innovator and also musicians from his current Riverdance career. The results are a mixed bag, flowing from brilliant, edgy, folk-inspired rock tunes to glossy, whispy pieces that would probably have been better left to the bright lights and hype of the dance production. Parov has always been one of my favorite artists from Europe. His work was always right on the edge of pop, but he always maintained a raw quality, an aggressive stance that made each piece a little rough, but all the more inspired for it. Kilim has a few of those moments, but more often than not, he's found his way to the other side, producing music that is pleasant, "nice," if you will, but that lacks the punch of his best work. - CF


    Zsarátnok
    The Balkan Legend
    Robi Droli (droli@inrete.alpcom.it)

    It's been many years since I last heard of this band from Hungary and as far as I know, they have never had a release outside of Hungary before this. While not domestic, at least Italy offers some hope for their exposure to the world.

    Zsarátnok are a heady band, mixing traditional music and instruments of a dozen nearby cultures, along with jazz, avant garde new music and classical strains. Nikola Parov founded the band in the 80s to bring the music of his Bulgarian birthplace to a new audience. The band has collected both music and instruments from all over the region (frets, strings, percussion and winds), learned their roots and explored their possibilities and molded them into a unique new folk music that is neither totally new nor hamstrung by false tradition.

    Available at cdRoots


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    See also: Europe, Gipsy

    Further Adventures: The Dance House, in Hungary, but in English

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