Urban Bratsch

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Urban Bratsch
World Village ( www.worldvillagemusic.com)

Everybody loves Gypsy music. It’s energetic and fiery, meant for dancing around a campfire. It’s also mournful, a solo violinist tugging at heartstrings with every stroke of the bow. In other words, popular conceptions of Gypsy music are as cliched as horse-drawn wagons and fortune telling.

Bratsch was formed in 1972 and released their first recording in 1976. Urban Bratsch is by my count their 20th release. And while Roma influences abound in their music, I’m not sure Bratsch would call themselves a Gypsy band. The individual biographies on their website mention jazz more often than anything else. Jazz, especially in the style of Django Reinhardt, is definitely present here, as are influences from klezmer and flamenco, and even a bit of minimalism a la Philip Glass. I’m not sure these influences can, or even should, be untangled.

“Fuego” is my favorite tune on this record. Written by the band’s violinist Bruno Girard, this piece is a fun challenge to follow. With the accordion, violin, and clarinet, there’s an Eastern European feel, while the guitar and bass contribute a Hot Club de France vibe. There’s an accordion groove underpinning everything, but the violin and clarinet melodies move in a different space than the accordion does. The piece is written in an 11/8 time signature, and each instrument breaks down those 11 beats in different patterns and accents. Bass, guitar, and some percussion add their own parts, sometimes moving toward something chaotic, yet always coming back together. The abrupt ending both calls me to applaud and makes me long for more. Another great tune is “Ska fonce,” an instrumental composition by the band’s accordion player François Castiello performed as an accordion-violin duet. It begins with lightning-fast solo accordion, then adds lightning-fast violin, playing a dance tune that I would have to dance at half tempo. It moves into simpler yet still incredibly fast short arpeggiated lines repeated many times, so that the arpeggio itself almost becomes a drone. The melody comes back, altered slightly by syncopation. The changes are minor as the piece progresses, yet the energy drives hard from the first note to the climbing climax. Even at half-tempo, dancing to this tune would exhaust me in all the best ways.

Add to these a song from Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill as well as folk music from Italy, Armenia, Serbia, and Romani traditions, along with all the fire and mournfulness one expects from Gypsy music. Top that off with “Cliches” which has some of the funniest instrumental passages I’ve ever heard.

There’s Romani music here, but Bratsch has built so much more that’s worth exploring and enjoying. Listen to Urban Bratsch, and let the sounds carry you beyond the cliches. - Greg Harness

Lots of MP3 and video is available on the band's web site.

The CD was also be featured on RootsWorld Radio

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