Slav to the Rhythm by Farmers Market
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Farmers Market
Slav to the Rhythm
Division Records

Farmers Market’s latest CD, Slav to the Rhythm, threw me for a complete loop. First, the band has been around since 1991; and second, the group hails from Norway. Knowing nothing about the group, and going just by the title of the CD, I would have thought that I had stumbled across a lost ‘70s jazz-folk-prog gem that had slipped right past the capitalist fist.

The influence of jazz on Scandinavian musicians is an interesting one, where the African-American art form met up with a stark, glacial aesthetic. Scandinavian jazz birthed a new kind of cool, as many of the artists on the German ECM bore out, but there has also been ample room for the noisily experimental as well. Farmers Market has roots in the latter scene, moving from free-jazz collective, to incorporating elements of Bulgarian music into their sound. The band has often collaborated with Bulgarian singers, such as the renowned women’s Bulgarian choir (Angelite). Slav to the Rhythm is a culmination of sounds and influences.

There is a progressive rock influence on the title track that carries right through the album, with numerous time changes in evidence. “Slav to the Rhythm” gets down to business, indoctrinating the listener into a wild Bulgarian ride replete with washes of keyboards and shredding guitar. The introduction of Filip Simeonov’s clarinet and Darinka Tsekova’s gadulka provide ethnic flavor – and while the melodies motor on in contemporary jazz-rock style painting a Balkan picture, it’s often the traditional lines that soar in which make Farmers Market veer off into new terrain. The years of studying Bulgarian music (heading back to 1995’s Speed/Balkan/Boogie) are the pivot point.

Nils Olav Johansen often provides some vocalizations on Slav to the Rhythm, and these are best characterized as vocal washes amidst the music. There is some nice sweeping interplay between these kinds of choral interludes, and Stian Carstensen’s guitar playing, on a track such as “Dusty Traditions” (and note that extensive use of organ and synth). The dynamic playing takes a back seat, however, when the Bulgarian women step forward to dominate a track such as the plaintive “Replace,” or the funky “Old Stuff Still Does the Trick” (a tune built off a traditional melody).

A track such as “Machines Rule” starts off like a ticker-tape machine, and the sudden buildup from a mechanized rhythm to release as Finn Guttormsen’s driving bass goes increasingly widescreen. Here, Farmers Market bring in cello, electric sitar, French horns, and harp in one unabashed crescendo after another. “And Thus” is a different beast altogether, nodding towards the melancholic Romanian doina; Roxana Busthihan’s pan pipes set up what turns into a gothic Spaghetti-western prog piece, by way of Eastern Europe. “Man is Ancient History” serves up another fusion, where Simeonov’s Bulgarian clarinet trades licks with Indian tabla.

Overall, Farmers Market makes a convincing case that too much is never enough. The flash musicianship and excess proggery do not come off as cloying or embarrassing, but oddly fresh and ridiculously fun. Where Ivo Papasov meets Frank Zappa, Farmers Market bring something new to the table. - Lee Blackstone

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