When I was doing background research for my review of the most recent Taraf de Haïdouks, Of Lovers, Gamblers and Parachute Skirts, I ran across a reference to Band of Gypsies 2, their 2011 collaboration with Kočani Orkestar. That sounded really familiar, but when I checked my files, I didn’t see that I’d written a review for it. Then a day or so later I was rooting around in my box of CDs waiting to be reviewed, and lo and behold, there it was! Well, awesome! I figured I would review Band of Gypsies 2 while my impressions of the most recent Taraf de Haïdouks CD were still fresh.
Band of Gypsies 2 marks a very exciting collaboration between two of Europe’s most popular Gypsy bands. The fourteen members of Taraf de Haïdouks hail from a region in Romania where Orthodox Christianity is the dominant religion and the language derives from so-called Vulgar Latin. They play primarily violins and accordions. The thirteen members of Kočani Orkestar come from the Republic of Macedonia, are Muslim, and speak a Slavic language. They play primarily brass instruments, trumpets and tubas. Put all these men and their instruments together and you have a real wall of sound!
The CD is called Band of Gypsies 2 because members of Kočani Orkestar appeared on three tracks of the earlier Taraf de Haïdouks Band of Gypsies CD, which came out in 2001. According to the liner notes, the bands got together for just twelve days to write, arrange, perform and record the twelve tracks on the CD. It’s over an hour’s worth of high-energy music, plus three videos of the band performing two songs from the CD and one that is not otherwise included. The videos, by the way, are a lot of fun to watch but are not very high quality. The official video for the album, based on a live performance in 2010, is available on YouTube for your viewing pleasure. These guys are so GOOD!
Although the liner notes don’t give details on which band members play on each of the tracks, the impression I have from listening is that everyone plays on all of them. The individual compositions range in duration from about just over three to well over eight minutes. They are remarkably complex, typically going through multiple changes in rhythm and tempo, as instruments and vocalists weave into and out of the mix. While most of the tracks have some vocal parts, I count four that are entirely instrumental. All the compositions and arrangements are superb!
Track 1, “I Am a Gigolo,” is very lively, with fiddles and a cimbalom predominating and a flute in the background. Until the tubas kicked in, I thought it sounded like an Irish song with Middle Eastern overtones. Track 3, “Mandrulita Mea” starts slow and speeds up, with brass and cimbalom as the dominant sounds. I loved the fast violins and exotic feel of Track 5, “Turceasca a Lu Kalo.” Track 8, “Dikhél Khelél,” is another instrumental, strong on clarinet and percussion (one member of Kočani Orkestar plays the darbuka, a small hand drum). Track 10, simply titled “Sara,” opens with a rather mournful vocal accompanied by accordion and violins, then shifts into a piece that sounds like belly dance music to me. The final track, “Gypsy Sahara,” is another instrumental, this one heavy on the drums and horns. This is the instrumental featured on the official video for the album. Fabulous!
Like Of Lovers, Gamblers and Parachute Skirts, the CD is packaged in a paperboard tri-fold case with liner notes tucked into the center pocket. Notes are in both English and French. The centerfold of the liner notes is a posed group photo of the band with their instruments. What an amazing bunch! One of the panels of the case also shows photos of the band members with their names and instruments. Of course this is just a little CD case, so the photos are each about the size of my little fingernail, and the text is very small. You can find more about this CD and Taraf de Haïdouks on their website.
(Crammed Discs, 2011)