In the lexicon and the mythology of World Music as defined by, oh I don't know, Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno and Jon Hassell (hardly those who invented the form but I'd say those who are most responsible for the success of the first wave of pop experimentation in the 1980s) it seems to me that one of the more worthy ends in such hodgepodge (by which Salman Rushdie has told us repeatedly is the only way new things enter the world) is to find the similarities in traditions more than to glue together the disparities.
For example, Chinese traditional folk music as found in the northwestern Steppes (as the doughty Irish folkie band the Chieftains discovered some years back) have some bits in common with those reels and foxtrots that the lasses step-dance to. (Foxtrot may not be quite the word there, and if it isn't I apologize for the gaffe).
Same here. Who knew the switchbacked, gnarled melodies of Eastern European folk music (made popular by Bela Bartok and others) would dance attendance so well with the rhythms of Burkina Faso? But then, nobody realized until Jon Hassell and Brian Eno came along that African rhythms and Indian melody would meld as well as their Fourth World music did, either.
"Romanian Suite" essays some jouncy South Asian substructures, Avram Fefer's very klezmeresque clarinet trades 16s and 24s (where applicable) with Abou Sylla's balafon for much of the recording, and meaty keyboards are provided by Steve Espinola on several tracks.
The remaining central voices here are the cushionlike string section (Raul Rothblatt, cello/bass; Kalman Magyar, violin. viola), who dive and swoop prettily through Rothblatt's charts and arrangements, and Sylvain Leroux's cheery flutes (livening up a seemingly impossible-to-top "Balushari."
This music is not as aggressive as many Vulcan mind-melds of the past between cultures, but that's just due to the lack of electric instruments. The many sources of sound available in the acoustic-only world are of far greater interest and variety than those encountered in the electric world, which are far more monochromatic than this gentle combination requires. See Leroux's wild, sad flute break over the cello'd Bach cadence in the famous "Prelude to Suite Number One." All the evidence you need! Amps and speakers would kill the flavor of this hypergumbo.
Kudos are also owed to John Kennedy and Tsafrir Lichtenstein, whose trap kits keep out of the way wherever humanly possible, and one magic interval after another.
Not all combinations of POV and tradition work out this well, but it certainly bodes well for us all when one comes up as strongly as this.
by Ken Egbert
Copyright Jazz Now, September 2005, all rights reserved.
Jazz Now Interactive September 2005 Vol 15 No. 5 - Table of Contents