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CD REVIEW – Budapest Gypsy Orchestra – thejazzmann.com

03.04.2009 – Bura Termett ido

Unique Gypsy music. A significant musical document.

‘This latest release from Dave Kelbie’s Lejazzetal label is significantly different to most of the previous albums on the label. Although still concerned with Romany culture “Bura Termett Ido” (“Times Darkened By Sorrow”) does not take the music of Django Reinhardt as it’s starting point although he was an indirect influence. Indeed there are no guitars at all on the record and just for once Kelbie himself doesn’t get to play on it.

Tcha Limberger is a blind gypsy violinist and his Orchestra explores the musical style of “Magyar Nota”, literally “Hungarian Song”. Most of this music was composed in the early 19th Century and although incorporating folkloristic elements it was played in the homes of noblemen by hired gypsy musicians. In it’s heyday the music was enormously popular.

Limberger’s Orchestra blends traditional methods with a more contemporary approach. The resultant music is a sound unfamiliar to Western European ears but repeated listening brings out the hidden complexities and beauties of the music.

Many of these tunes were written as dances and the informative liner notes include a glossary of the various terms used with regard to the music. The instrumentation comprises of Limberger and Ruszo Istvan (violins), Lukas Csaba (clarinet), Olah Norbert (viola), Szegfu Karoly (cello), Csikos Vilmos (double bass) and Feher Istvan (cimbalom). In this context the viola is referred to as “bracs” from the Italian word “braccio” meaning arm. The instrument is used as a rhythmic component, working in tandem with the double bass, the latter normally being played with the bow.. The viola is held in a vertical position and the player’s arm is always working! The cimbalom is a descendent of the Persian santour and is a rigid case filled with resonant strings that are struck by hammers. In this respect it shares characteristics similar to both the piano and the dulcimer. Like the piano it can be used as either a solo or accompanying instrument and both these qualities are revealed on this recording.

The Orchestra play with a passion and intensity that recalls the best Argentinian tango even though the sound is radically different. The eleven tracks are comprised of sets of tunes in the folk tradition with brooding slow passages juxtaposed with almost impossibly fast instrumental breaks often in the course of a single set. The ensemble sound is initially unfamiliar to Western European ears but gradually draws the novice listener in. The main solo instruments are the violin of band leader (or “primas”) Limberger and the remarkable clarinet of Csaba. The latter’s extraordinary lines often echo the part taken by the accordion in other forms of folk music and the technical ability of the two lead players is astonishing, especially on the “friss” or fast passages. Istvan’s cimbalom, sometimes sounding like a wonky piano adds colour as both an ensemble and solo instrument. It’s highly effective and one can imagine Tom Waits adapting it’s somewhat arcane sound to fit into his work.

The rhythm players offer sympathetic, disciplined support using both the 4/4 “esztam” rhythm and “fel (or broken) esztam”.

Some of the tunes feature impassioned vocals that mix operatic influences with Romany traditions.

I can’t comment on the lyrical content, other than that of the title track which is reproduced in the CD booklet. I think it’s safe to say that it’s not exactly jolly, but it is full of raw emotion. The voice is used sparingly over the course of the album but where it appears it is dramatic, haunting and effective.

“Bura Termett Ido” is very different to anything I’ve heard before and is significantly different to other Eastern European folk music that has come to my attention. It’s certainly not a jazz record and if music this unique can be pigeon-holed I guess it would fall into the world/folk category. This is the sort of music that can take a few listens to appreciate despite it’s dance origins but the inquisitive listener should find plenty to enjoy here.

I remember visiting Budapest in the 90’s and being pestered morning noon and night by itinerant and frankly incompetent violinists chasing the tourist dollar. We got so fed up with it that we actually paid these fellows to go away. If somebody as good as Mr Limberger or his colleagues had happened along I’d have been rather more inclined to listen.

Recorded live in various locations and in front of appreciative audiences on the Orchestra’s most recent UK tour “Bura Termett Ido” is, as Kelbie states, a significant musical document.’

IAN MANN

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