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Bratsch
Rien Dans Les Poches

By Srajan Ebaen
Click here to e-mail reviewer

Compact Disc Compact Disc: Network 29.667 Compact Disc

 

Genre: Gipsy music from Central Europe

  The Parisian formation Bratsch, here celebrating their 20th anniversary with long-standing friends as guest artists, epitomizes the very heart of what inspired this Global Caravan column in the first place – wild, passionate, virtuoso playing in the tradition of the Gypsies. The core group is made up of five very earthy and free-spirited characters: Dan Gharibian (vocals, guitar, bouzouki), a native Armenian growing up in France who was strongly influenced by the Russian, Greek and Oriental music of his grandparents and later discovered Django Reinhardt; Bruno Girard (vocals, violin) who refused to read music and instead learned by heart and has played various American and French Free Jazz combos while extensively studying the history of Jazz; Nano Peylet (vocals, clarinet), conservatory-trained, who enjoys a deep affinity with Free Jazz and the Klezmorim Dave Tarras and Giora Feidman; Francois Castiello (vocals, accordion) who forewent the family trade of brick layer to embrace the Bal Musette accordion and then veered into Jazz arrangements; and Pierre Jacquet (double-bass) who weekly frequented the Parisian flea market to enjoy the Tsigane bands and is influenced by the Musette and Free Jazz.

The 1993 live release Bratsch: Gypsy Music From The Heart Of Europe [Network 55.832] is the stuff of legend among connoisseurs - a deft celebration of vivaciousness, unhinged improvisations and telepathic ensemble work clicking like the Dream Team. It stems from not only years of performing together but also close personal friendships. Marvelous tunes act like excavation tunnels. They reach deep into the soil of Kletzmer, Rom, Gitan, Manouche and Sinti tradition to uncover the caves hiding their forgotten treasure. Like multi-hued rays of refracted light, their brilliance again fills this domain in recognizable likeness while also modulated by contemporary influences and individual spirits.

It’s said that old-timers attending Bratsch performances often claim to recognize this music from their youth. Their advanced age versus the ensemble’s actual existence makes this plainly impossible. Still, it points at a rare phenomenon that musicologists likewise acknowledge. They call this music traditional, even though it is blatantly contemporary and blazingly fresh. It’s simply tradition in-the-making. However, it’s being recognized while it’s happening, not generations later. That’s the unique twist.

Bratsch has relit the ancient Gipsy tradition of the musical wayfarers, well-traveled, supremely gifted, playing from the heart rather than the head, pouring the most unlikely of stylistic influences, melodic snippets, regional phrasings and rhythms into the cauldron of creative urge and pulling them back out reassembled, reinterpreted, modernized and bursting with vitality. Still, they never stray too far from the ancient roots. That -- and their utter virtuosity -- keeps crass commercialism in ironfisted check. It never so much as makes even an exhausted suggestive twitch. Accordingly, authentic Gipsy encampments always open their arms to embrace the Bratsch musicians as their own. Their tunes touch upon Hungarian wedding music, Romanian Doďnas, Greek Tsifteteli belly dance, Rembetiko influenced Taqsim, Yiddish songs from the Ukraine, tarantellas from Naples, Macedonian festival openers, Russian Sirba dances, Gipsy Swing, Musette and Jazz improv.

On Rien Dans Les Poches [Empty Pockets, going for broke, with an actual penny affixed to the CD book cover], many musical fellow vagabonds join the group. Angelo Debarre is a phenomenally virtuosic guitarist from the Manouche Jazz Gipsy Swing tradition who has collaborated with the Russian Gipsy group Arbat and is considered one of the most incendiary talents to revitalize the Reinhardt tradition. Teddy Yukmirovic (trumpet) and Serge Rosenberg (saxophone) are members of the Luda Family, a formation that routinely trades jovial invites with Bratsch to participate in each other’s musical marathon celebrations. Stanislav Petkov Panayotov joins with the Bulgarian gadulka, a violin that’s played upright and sports as many as nine sympathetic strings. There also is the famous gypsy ensemble Ando Drom from Budapest with their celebrated lead singer Mónika “Mitsou”Juhász Miczura and Armenian zarb drummer Keyvan Chemirani.

Poches is like a time capsule. Listening to this album, you’re transported, outside of neat categorizations, predictable chord progressions, dry-cleaned and reverb-polished voices. Instead, things become raw – voices break and turn raspy, the violin explores overtone distortions, the clarinet shrieks, quivers, seduces and pleads. Notes bend, slur and slide. Minor and major scales intermingle. Tempi run amok until you expect collision, yet everyone’s too nimble to stumble. Atmosphere is allowed to develop before a recognizable melody breaks out of its cocoon. Hard-swinging Bop morphs into slowly limping odd-metered rhythms. You see shadows of dancers, boisterous tavern patrons, solitary sheepherders, intricate indigenous costumes, dark bearded faces, or faces adorned with exotic jewelry. What hits you above all like a strong pungent smell is a feeling – of abandonment, of an unrestrained wildness, rule-defying, caring only for being authentically in the moment: the soul of the itinerant musician for whom music is his greatest and perhaps only possession.

Tall words? Perhaps. But also consider this quote from Michael Brook, musician and producer: “… it’s the quality that many demos have which gets lost as music is refined and perfected to make a ‘professional’ product. Many of us in the music industry bemoan how finished albums are often less exciting or emotional than the demo…” [from Fusion of Cultures, his commentary to Claude Chalhoub’s eponymous album he produced]. Rien Dans Les Poches lives beyond such concerns. That’s perhaps why it will strike certain listeners as wearing its heart too flamboyantly on its sleeve. For me, this then is exactly what makes it into Global Caravan’s perfect symbol and condensed mission statement. Nothing in your pockets? Then check into your heart. You may be a king pretending to be a beggar. And if you didn’t already know that, this disc will remind you in a bleeding hurry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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