Thursday, March 12, 2009

I Sowed Pearls: Hungarian World Music 1972-2006

A hugely informative and impressively packaged compilation of Hungarian folk, roots and ethno-Jazz music put together by composer, musician and all-round champion of everything Carpathian, Ferenc Kiss. It's on his Etnofon label through Hangveto, and available on Amazon and Passion. CD One is centred around the táncház (dance house) music that originated in Transylvania in the early '70s, and features amongst others the wonderfully rich, melodic sound of Muszikas featuring Marta Sebestyén (who some will remember as one of the East European hits from the early days of the "world music" boom) and a great track featuring Sebian violinist Félix Lajkó. There's much great work from early purveyors of the Hungarian Balkan/folk music explosion (or renaissance) of the '70s and '80s on this first CD - violins, cimbaloms, accordions and sweet vocals a-plenty. All good stuff. CD Two covers those artists who "used folk as point of departure", as the excellent sleeve notes tell us, marked by the appearance of Kolinda and Makam on the scene, experimental groups that mixed in jazz, rock and Slav styles with traditional sounds (not always to my particular taste, it has to be said). Often verging on the experimental, I guess a lot of this might be called folk-rock, ie rock in arrangement, tightness and energy rather than instrumentation, the music still being played on acoustic/traditional instruments. Kiss himself comes to the fore as an excellent arranger and multi-instrumentalist, and we hear an early appearance of legendary cimbalom maestro Kálmán Balogh on Ferenc's inventive Euro-Argentine clash Kés és kereszt tango. This volume is just about more hit than miss for me, certainly well worth investigating, because where it's good it's very good. Where it's bad.... well, it's '80s European folk-rock bad. CD Three is the best of the four volumes: called "From Rivulet to Ocean", it covers the music of minority groups in Hungary, which of course includes the Roma - Besh o droM (I think they're gypsy: certainly Balkan anyway), Andro Drom (featuring a track - Csi Lav Tu - that has the best vocal I've ever heard from a pre-squeaky, almost Esma-esque Mitsoura), that man Kálmán Balogh again with his Gypsy Cimbalom Band, and many more, including a great band called Söndörgö who were spawned from the veteran Serb-Croat troupe Vujjicsics (or "pronounced voy-chitch", as I've always known them). I'm delighted to see the latter are still putting across their great music as well as ever, their track here probably the best on the whole collection, an extraordinarily plaintive instrumental tune of farewell introduced to their repertoire during the mid-'90s as the ex-Yugoslav republic tore itself apart. With some decent klezmer tracks thrown in for good measure (including the ubiquitous Ferenc Kiss' Odessa Klezmer Band), this third CD is consistently engaging, and you can't help wondering why some of the exceptional bands that are still performing never seem to make it over to the UK to play. CD Four is devoted to Hungarian ethno-jazz music and is called "Fresh and Sparkling". At times it feels more Dense and Challenging to this listener on the earlier tunes, with a heavy leaning towards improvisation and extemporisation - certainly the early movers and shakers like Syrius and Ràkfogo were nothing better than Prog Jazz bands to my ears. Things seemed to start to improve in the mid-'90s as ensembles swung back towards including traditional instruments, and some of the later recordings by the likes of Ferenc Kovacs, that bring violin, double-bass and clarinet back in favour of dull atonal sax and silly keyboard solos, slowly break down defences as the listener gets a handle on the way these musicians are pulling their love of modern jazz together with the táncház music showcased on the first CD. Trust a man like Ferenc Kiss to bring us full circle and open out new avenues of musical interest in such an arresting way. A challenging fourth CD, but one that's beginning to bring its rewards.

Highly recommended.

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