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By Srajan Ebaen
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Aksak Florina

Compact Disc Compact Disc: Buda Musique 82999-2 Compact Disc


  Florina is Balkan fusion fare busting at the seams with disobedient creativity. It transforms traditional Gipsy styles and the timbral vocabulary of its five-member ensemble (Romanian Kaval flutes, accordion, clarinet, viola, violin, sax, double bass, guitar, oud, percussion and vocals) into a genre-bending affair. It reeks strongly of Kletzmer intoxication. It boasts of free-spirited all-night jam sessions around the smoldering fire of an impromptu vagabond encampment. Gheorge Zamfir on acid grabs Ivo Papasov by the waist who beckons for the Bratsch members to all simultaneously tune into multiple unhinged offshore airwaves that now intrude into their joint remote outpost deep in the Carpathian Mountains.

Basses rattle, rumble, resonate and recite unreasonable rhythm rhymes. Voices explore dissonant distances. Violins saw, sizzle, sputter, sing and serenade. Flageolet distortion invites homeless vampires into the light, knowing that its aural potency is stronger even than garlic. Shadows of Thracian dances, limping murmurs of Romanian Ruchenitsas, and the potent melancholia of a Bulgarian Doina whirl around the flickering fire. They stop for brief but respectful curtsies into all four directions -- greeting the Tarafs of Haidouks and Carancebes, winking at certain pioneers of Free Jazz, invoking various ancient minor scales, spotting a glance of the divinely inebriated goat-footed god Pan and his Syrinx pipes -- before the otherworldly caravan of revolving nocturnal characters around the fire resumes.

Attend this party only if you can leave your mind at the door. Forget about pretty, every-hair-in-its-place makeup to pass the bouncer. You better me made of sterner, edgier, truly bent stuff to survive this encounter without later complaints. Just like the previously reviewed Rien dans les Poches by fellow Gipsy raconteurs Bratsch, the Aksak ensemble takes music making back to rawer, more volatile and folksier roots but practices a stronger "Balkanese" focus. It's the kind Mussorgsky probably culled from with his Night on Bald Mountain but couldn't translate with this type of authenticity within a classical symphonic format and its well-groomed, immaculate musicians shuddering at the mere thought of apparent imperfection.

Florina is Transylvanian magic executed with flair and an obvious love of its ethnic culture. Geographically both European and Asian and thus endowed with a unique stylistic perspective, music from this region tends to be virtuous, colorful, a bit crazed, exuberant, plumbing for an emotionally unedited response. And Aksak delivers on all fronts, shifting gears from tune to tune to keep us on our feet. But don't listen to Florina and expect anything remotely conventional. No, music of this caliber is meant to blow your mind and open your horizons. And that it will do if you let it. Boldly highlighted then in my twisted book of two-left-thumbs-up Gypsified recos.












































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