Kepa Junkera - Hiri

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Kepa Junkera
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Basque virtuoso accordionist Kepa Junkera has kept his fans waiting since 2002's masterpiece Maren, although he's been busy with a live CD (K) and a musical tribute to Bilbao's football team (Athletic Bihotzez). But he'll make them happy with this new recording, an exploration on the theme of "City," Hiri in Basque. Junkera has not broken a whole lot of new ground, but is sticking with what works; Basque diatonic accordion with lots of txalaparta and alboka, Basque lyrics by respected writer Xabier Amuriza, and non-Basque elements added by Bulgarka and other guests from around the globe.

This lack of radical change is in itself is a departure for Bilbao's best-known master of the trikitixa. On previous discs, Junkera practically reinvented a centuries-old genre. (Until Junkera, Basque trikitilaris often contented themselves with an accordion, tambourine accompaniment, and sometimes a singer.) Junkera's sound has always evolved, but here he seems content to stop innovating for the moment and simply play in the groove he created.

Yet the music is fresh, positive and complex. From Reno to Kokkola (Finland), from Agadir (Morocco) to Tbilisi (Georgia), from Kiruna on the Artic Circle to Buenos Aires, and passing through Basque Country along the way, Kepa travels the world but in some ways never leaves his home of Rekalde in Bilbao.

As a result, Hiri isn't just a collection of songs, but also a seamless unit, held together by Junkera himself. This is accomplished despite the changes of pace from songs like the title track, which moves along gracefully, to the more energized "Ataun."

There is also a range of emotion: "Kiruna," featuring Azerbaijani singer Aygun, is soulful, while "Tatihou" is whimsical. "Tblisi" owes its structure to the traditional Basque kopla, reminding me a bit of the Basque-Irish band Alboka.

As usual, Junkera's invited guests include international and local musicians of note. Basque content is provided by his frequent collaborator Ibon Koteron, on alboka, and Inaki Plaza-Ion Garmendia on txalaparta, both instruments of local origin that are staples of Junkera's sound. International collaborators include the vocals of Bulgarka, Patrick Vaillant and Melonius Quartet, the strings of Alos Quesrtet and Andy Narell on steel drums, just to name a few.

Junkera's trikitixa accordions in A, C and G are featured on all the tracks, and his creative and dexterous playing always brings amazement. Everything fits together quite nicely in this excellent 70-minute collection. - David Cox

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