Angrusori – Live at Tou
(Hudson Records HUD017CD. Album review by Alison Bentley)
Musical borders blurred: Roma songs sung and played by musicians from the Slovak Roma community and Norwegian improvisers the Kitchen Orchestra.
The songs, collected by researcher Jana Belišová, are about the experiences of Roma migration and details of daily life, serious and comic. They’re arranged by organist/leader Nils Henrik Asheim and Iva Bittová, (vocals/violin) and helpfully translated in the CD booklet. The voices have that distinctive Eastern European strong, open-throated style – some say it developed from having to call across the mountains to your goats.
The songs emerge from sections of free improvisation, which brings focus to the improv and adds another layer of mystery to the songs.
Pre ada baro svetos touches on rootlessness: “In this huge world / I have no place to go”. Loose percussion, breathy vocalising and violin trills settle into a Besame Mucho-like tango in vocal harmony.
“Cold water / How will I cross it?” asks Paš o pani bešav, the voice light with almost Arabic inflections, with subtle pizzicato violin.
In Rodav me miro drom, the unaccompanied declamatory voice, with a catch in the sound, breaks into tongued sax rhythms, bells, whistles and wild ululations, Maggie Nicols style. “I’m looking for my way / I can’t find it,” she sings, but sounds as if she’s enjoying the hunt.
Bo sloboda, bo sloboda is slow and pensive, musing on hardship. The vocal harmony is embroidered with gypsy jazz guitar and luscious string harmonies with tzigane flourishes.
Two songs imitate birdsong and forest ambience, with evocative lyrics. Oda kalo čirikloro has melancholy harmonised vocals about a rather menacing blackbird. Nadur le romendar o cintiris is a gorgeous minor waltz, like the kind that may have influenced Leonard Cohen: “Near my Roma settlement is a cemetery / I bring a rose on a plate”.
Some of the album’s most exciting moments are where the musicians are venturing across each other’s musical borders. In Te me gel’om andre karčma, you can hear pieces of the melody sung wildly in the distance, in the haze of the improv and thundering drums. The voices harmonise freely and bring equal intensity to the sound in both comedy and anguish – this lyric is about finding red fur boots under a willow tree. Sweet acoustic gypsy jazz guitar and accordion solos flicker brilliantly around violin lines. In another take on the boot theme, Te me gel’om tele šuki virba, a solo voice sings some lines unaccompanied; a sax replies with jazz-inflected versions of the same phrases.
There’s irony. In the circling cello of Chude man vastetar the singer fears illness, but the high-kicking Cossack-style dance seems to get his health back at ever-increasing speed. The album ends and begins with a kind of humour that reminds me of jazz musicians. In the fun country swing of Joj so kerava, the singer complains that it’s winter and neither his girlfriend nor beautiful wife want him – where can he go? (Compare old jazz joke: Q. What do you call a drummer without a girlfriend? A. Homeless.)
Sar me khere džava starts with deep sax overtones and drones. The strings, accordion and guitars merge indistinguishably. They develop into a song about getting drunk on – very specifically – Johnnie Walker: “Where did you put the children? / I threw them in the water / And the fish ate them”.
The album is an intriguing and thoroughly enjoyable mix of traditions creating something quite new.
Categories: Album review