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    Yuri Yunakov
    Balada - Bulgarian Wedding Music
    Traditional Crossroads (

    From the land where East meets West it is again time for those irrational fractional meters that demand seat belts for safe dancing. Yuri Yunakov is a veteran of Ivo Papasov's band from Bulgaria, the group that introduced this new style of wedding music to most Westerners. His saxophone playing is amazing in its authoritative technique and bounding energy. Yunakov now lives in New York City and recorded this album with a multinational all-star group including accordionist Neshko Neshev (ex-Ivo Papasov), klezmer/Bulgarian ace Lauren Brody, Catherine Foster (from Zlatne Uste Brass Band) on clarinet, Seido Salifoski on dumbek, and very able vocalist Carol Silverman.

    In the bad old days of Communism, Yunakov was often harassed by authorities for playing music of his Turkish/Rom heritage. Thankfully, he persevered and there are a couple of songs from this repertoire on this disc. The extended first is track is by far my favorite, with improvisations by Yunakov and Neshev. However, without the manic trap set, I did not find the rest of the album as excitingly frantic (or is it frantically exciting?) as the first Papasov recordings.

    (Check out the recording data for an idea of how truly international "world music" has become: Bulgarians and Americans recorded in Australia by someone named Vlad Ladgman, mastered by Hsi-Ling Chang, produced by Harold Hagopian, photos by Sarkis Bahar.) - Stacy Phillips
    Hear some music and read an interview with
    Yuri Yunakov

    Song Of The Crooked Dance:
    Early Bulgarian Traditional Music 1927-42

    Yazoo (

    For the past 25 years producer Lauren Brody has been studying the development of Bulgarian music both inside and outside the country. In 1990, Brody spent a year in Bulgaria doing historical research and transferring material from original 78's with funding from a Fulbright grant. This CD covers quite an array of music, featuring performances of traditional vocal and instrumental folk music from urban and rural Bulgaria. Mita Stoicheva with the Ivan Kavaldzhiev orchestra, gives a stunning vocal performance of "Trima bratya dyulgeri," well-known as the ballad of the walled-in bride. Solo pieces on this recording, like the very staccato kaval (flute) piece played by Tsvyatko Blagoev, have a very powerful presence in the solo setting. The rough recording quality gives the music extra character and a feeling of truly listening to something of the past. The extensive liner notes are a treasure, helping to make this a fine package. - Trevor Healy

    and Stacy Phillips adds:
    This is a collection of traditional Bulgarian music recorded from 1927-42. Since this is pre-Soviet state programmed "socialist art-folk", it is a chance to hear the real thing (even if heavily tilted toward urban folk performers). It is produced by Lauren Brody, ace accordionist in the klezmer scene, and an expert in Bulgarian music. She contributes informed notes about the history of the music, song lyrics and short biographies of some of the performers.

    You will hear a potpourri of bagpipes, accordions, clarinets, oboe-like reeds, trumpets, end-blown flutes, heart-tugging rubato ballads, seizure-inducing crooked meters, and even a straight-ahead waltz and 2/4 dance. Forget Les Mystere de Voix Bulgare, this is the real McCoy. . . er, the real Boris. - Stacy Phillips

    Ivo Papasov And His Bulgarian Wedding Band
    Orpheus Ascending

    Some of the best jazz I've heard in years has come from Eastern Europe, notably Poland's Repotaz and Pick-up. Add to the list lvo Papasov's band. "Stambolovo" means "wedding" in Bulgarian, and while the instrumentation-clarinet, accordion, guitars and drums-are the same as those bands from the union hall that you have nightmares about, this ain't them. This band is Billy Cobham, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman and Artie Shaw in equal parts, plus the wild Balkan time signatures: 11/16, 9/8, and so on. Add the Bulgarian voice of Maria Papasov modulating and trembling as only those mysterious "Voix Bulgares" can do, and you have the next wave in jazz. Tight, basic arrangements keep it structured, but at the same time make room for some wild and spirited improvising by the band, and especially by Papasov's clarinet, first melodic and sweet and then shrieking and whining at the top end of the register. In a time when American jazz is going to extremes to be either weird (Zorn) or newly accessible (the new age pudding is unlimited) these folks from Bulgaria are just doing it to do it. It's lively, it's entertaining, it doesn't seem to know the rules, so it goes where it pleases. Orpheus Ascending should not be "filed under: world music/ethnic" but right in front of all the new jazz releases. From the eastern end of the continent that brought you "le jazz hot" comes some more fire. - CF

    Ivo Papasov
    Hannibal Records

    "Balkanology" reminds us that there is more to the Balkans than primitive ethnic nationalism. Papasov is a clarinet virtuoso of stellar class, whose band brings to life a patchwork of regional and national idioms ranging from Greek to Gypsy and Turkish. Papasov is possibly most inventive in the fast, additive dance rhythms of Bulgarian wedding music. As we learn from some good liner notes, this is a genre which grew up in the gaps between traditional village music and the state-sponsored, artified folkloric forms.

    The supporting instruments - saxophone, guitar, piano accordion, bass and drums - add to the "contemporary" tone. In fact, the first moments of the first track were a worry: a tight disco beat on kit drums and bass reminiscent of classic reggae cuts. Were we in for a Bulgarian Bob Marley? But like garlic cutting through a bland lamb stew, the Bulgarian rhythmic and melodic viewpoint always came good.

    This viewpoint (itself not a little Turkish), which points the way to a powerful improvisatory language on a level with the best in jazz, has already become part of Australian multi-culti idiom through musicians like Lindsay Pollak, Kim Sanders, Mara, Sirocco, not to mention Balkan communities in traditional mode. Balkanology is for those who delight in pyrotechnics with a driving beat, rather than for purists. Great fun for dance parties - if your feet can tap in 11/8, and even if you are not getting spliced. - David Kelly

    Les Mystere Des Voix Bulgares
    From Bulgaria With Love

    Misnomers abound. It's billed as the choir, but it sure doesn't sound like they ever met the musicians or the computers who made the record. In a way, it's three EPs in one (with a pair of Italian bonus tracks that almost achieve the state of Mustapha they emulate). The re's one by techno-crat Robin Carrs (quite disposable); one by German D.J. Steve the B. and Ulrich Bassenge (Fripp? A Fripp cohort?), equally electronic but at least they have a sense of what the music of Bulgaria is about, and a sense of humor about their own technology. The third is by Vladimir Ivanoff and TranceFormation. It is this band's 12 minutes that does penance for the rest. Amid fuzzy ouds and echoed drums lies a heart of real musicianship, and they seem more in touch with the choir than on any of the other producers on the album. This is, of course, a lark, a bit of engineering fun. Traditionalists will bitch and moan, but then, they bitch and moan about the choir all the time for its modern, classical approach. Neither a ground-breaking effort nor a musical atrocity, From Bulgaria With Love is just one of those goofy vacationland postcards. Stick it on the fridge! - CF

    Yuri Yunakov Ensemble
    New Colors In Bulgarian Wedding Music
    Traditional Crossroads (

    When I think of wedding music, I think of some awful band that hires itself out to play "Daddy's Little Girl" and "Wild Thing" to a party that is hardly listening, and hardly cares. It's marvelous when a term like "wedding music" becomes a banner for modernity, progressive musical revolution and youthfulness. That's what has happened in the Balkans as artists like Ivo Papasov expanded the horo and the cocek to embrace jazz and rock, the saxophone and the electric guitar. Yunakov follows his lead with his new colors, and it is fresh and funky, terribly derivative and wholly refreshing. He dips into both Bulgarian traditions and Gypsy imports, but what results is far from folk. It is, in a sense, in the same tradition as the American wedding band, ready to play anything a particular group wants, but giving their own unique twist. As is the grand wedding custom (here and there), there is also an accordion player, so even the most hard-core union band will find a rapport. The time signatures may be unusual to American feet, but the bass and drum grooves, the wailing saxophone, the chunky electric guitar all make music that any R&B fan would get up an dance to, if they could find the beat. - CF

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