Nomadim – Nomadim
(Unit Records. CD review by Jane Mann)
Leader and composer Marc Crofts is a recent graduate of Lausanne Conservatoire, and a specialist in Balkan and other European and Eastern fiddle styles. He is joined by young French guitarist Railo Helmstetter who comes from a Manouche family so has grown up within that musical tradition of musette-tinged swing jazz. On bass is Blaise Hommage, another Lausanne music grad, who had, pre-pandemic, already embarked on the vagabond-life of the popular gigging bass player.
Crofts has written ten tunes for this CD, incorporating elements of different musical genres. He has a knack for charming melodies, and these are nicely structured pieces. They showcase the virtuoso playing of these young musicians, tightly scored but allowing room for lyrical improvisation.
Many different musical influences emerge as the album progresses. Crofts himself has an impressive way of sliding from one style to another within the same song, right from the first track Zaza – a tribute to gypsy music. The violin part begins as a traditional Manouche number, tips over into Eastern scales, and then see-saws between the two. Some tunes sound as if they are going to be familiar, like the ballad Our Secret Room, which hints at You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To before drifting away to become something else entirely. A bossa nova reminiscent of something from Black Orpheus slips into Greek rembetiko, or is it Macedonian folk? There are suggestions of God Only Knows in the lovely melody to Baby Bossa. A frantic, totally authentic-sounding Romanian violin solo, drifts into a blues on Eastern Road Trip.
There are two lovely waltzes: first Carousel, which falls into fragments, before whirling back into action; and then a modern musette beauty called La Goulue, which calls to mind that Toulouse Lautrec poster of the famed can-can dancer. The trio here are joined by acclaimed Manouche accordionist Marcel Loeffler, who makes the piece sound as if he has been playing it for years. There are overtones of Piazzolla here too – one of Loeffler’s influences, but there is also Buenos Aires autumnal melancholy to Novembre. There are echoes of Bill Frisell via Jenny Scheinman-style spare violin in the Country and Western-ish William’s Southern Lullaby.
The band describes this album as “un road-trip musicale”, and indeed it is. There is an obvious sympathy with what Crofts calls “the music of the region where north and south meet: Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria and Macedonia,” but also a deep love of the Manouche tradition. It’s a winning combination. I wonder what they will do next?
Nomadim is released on 3 March 2021