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1000 Year Journey @ the Barbican

PostPosted: Sat Jun 02, 2007 11:49 am
by garth cartwright
Run down of festival so far: Mahala Rai Banda - 3rd time I've seen them and the problem remains that they simply don't have material. Good players but like a jazz or blues band without a songwriter/commanding talent they don't do anything more than create a big yet empty sound.

Didn't see Eugene Hutz and the Russian trio as they were on first. It appears he sits on stage as the star, occasionally strumming his guitar (amp turned down I'm sure) and they do a slick show with dancing and such. All who saw it said good dancing but music a bit tepid.

A Hawk And A Hacksaw - almost all instrumental show. High energy with great cymbalom, violin and trumpet passages. Whether they will be able to develop actual songs out of what is in some ways a big jam I'm unsure but well played, good dynamic, a real excitement to some of the solos.

Fanfare Ciocarlia - opened with 3 of Kaloome (one of whom is, I think, right now the most beautiful woman making music anywhere) doing their flamenco thing for a couple of numbers. It's a bit of a tease as everyone is so excited about Fanfare you can feel the anticipation. And when the brass band come on they just rip straight into their high octane sound and never stop. A great fun show with lots of guests - the new one for me being Florentina Sanda, a 20 year old granddaughter of the Nicolae Neacsu of Taraf de Haidouks. Florentina is a gracious beauty with a good voice and commands the stage well - she could develop into really something! Jony Iliev came on on crutches due to a broken back (mad drivers in the Balkans) and sang well - he has a rich earthy voice that for some reason reminds me of Otis Redding! Then FC took off again - they delivered a steaming version of Caravan! The way their horns lock together, building and exploding is amazing. Then Esma Redzepova came on and just wiped the place out - that voice! That presence! Esma is right now my favourite female singer on earth! A really triumphant gig even if the Barbican is not the place for hi-energy brass music and, I must admit, that I hope the next time I see FC it's just as a brass orkestar - the guests are great but tend to slow things down - where they can blast as the ultimate Balkan funk machine.

Amira has an eerie, bewitching voice that conveys remarkable power and beauty. She sings so effortlessly, her voice like a caress and a cry. Her first UK gig and she takes the stage wearing the same clothes as she does to work in Sarajevo! Get this woman a costume! Kim Burton - the great writer, linguist and musician - joined the band on piano, perhaps too dominant (on the superb Rosa CD she remains more in the background). The clarinet player was a master and his beautiful passages effortlessly complimented Amira's voice. A good debut from a singer who could go very far.

Taraf De Haidouks - every Taraf gig used to be a great celebration but Neacsu's death in 2002 saw the band implode with members leaving and dieing and their last UK gig in 05 was a horrible mess. Tonight there's 9 Taraf (from the 13) and only 6 were in the 90s line-up. There's also a long haired young Belgian violinist who has been involved in teaching the band the classical repertoire that their forthcoming album Maskarada consists of. They're tight - a good sign - and in-between playing their new interpretations of Bartok and co' they whip through some of the Taraf repertoire with a real dynamic. Yet the absence of Neacsu, Cacurica, Caliu, Ionitsa and Turturica is felt, the band lacking much of the eccentric zest they once possessed and the solos never feeling as inspired as they once did. Vocalist Iorga only contributes one song - all the way from Romania for four minutes of music! He and the great violinist/singer Pasalan are beginning to look very fragile, the hard life lived by Gypsy musicians now showing as they reach pension age. Still, a shadow of the Taraf is still better than many acts and I'm pleased they are giving making music another shot. Any one else attended any of the gigs?

PostPosted: Sat Jun 02, 2007 8:04 pm
by Dominic
On Wednesday I took an almost unprecedented afternoon off and, after a detour to the wonderful Magma bookshop, headed to the Barbican. Guca, a film of last year's Golden Brass Festival was a little gem, perfectly paced with just the right balance between scene-setting, chat and live music.

Unfortunately the film overlapped with Garth's pre-concert talk. I resisted the temptation to rush in halfway thrrough shouting "Gogol Bordello" as it might have jeopardised my ticket for Fanfare Ciocarlia.

I wasn't completely won over by A Hawk & A Hacksaw and their Hungarian friends, but I did like the violin player and felt that by the end of their 30 minutes (-ish?) on stage they were just starting to hit their stride.
Fanfare Ciocarlia were just as Garth described them, delivering a beautifully structured set. I didn't feel that the guests slowed things down, though; the variety made it for me. To see most of the Barbican audience dancing almost from the start was wonderful.

I arrived too late for the start of Amira's set last night and needed food, so I contented myself with the screens and speakers in the bar/concourse/foyer/waiting room/box office area. Her Sevdah wasn't everyone's cup of tea, but I'll certainly be giving Rosa another listen as soon as it's back in stock here at Stern's.
Again, Garth describes Taraf de Haiduks very well (hey, he should write a book!). I guess the Bartok project is a deliberate means to move the band forward following so much upheaval. It was lovely stuff and a nice contrast to the more uptempo repertoire they're famous for. Only small outbreaks of dancing, though, but a good atmosphere overall. I was in between an elderly English couple and some rowdy young guys whistling and whooping, which says something positive about the much maligned Barbican.

Looking forward to Boban Markovic at the QEH on 14th July, not to mention all the other events organised by Garth & Leon, Seb, Jamie et al.

PostPosted: Sun Jun 03, 2007 11:45 am
by Chris P
Selim Sesler with Brenna MacCrimmon and (checks programme) Vassilis Saleas with guest Athena.

Selim's performance was everything I'd hoped for. Sweat broke by end of second piece, and the band (including 2 other Seslers one of which so (thankfully) discreet on keyboards that I hardly registered his musical presence) removed their jackets. Selim's playing melds the complex and beautiful Thracian and Anatolian tunes with interpretation, ornamentation and improvisation forged in the flight of performance. The band are all exceptional, the Sesler on qanun playing very adventurously (and in very different style to the Turkish art musics), and the darbuka player providing enough lift for take-off, as dancers hit the aisles.
Brenna is simply one of my favourite singers - the choice of songs, the upful and soulful personality she imbues them with, and the grain and ornamentations of her voice.....
By the end of the set the hall's Turkish, Greek and mongrel Anglo audience was vibed up to the ceiling with dancing in aisles and rhythmic clapping and swaying in chairs.

I would like to draw a discreet veil over Vassilis's set other than to mention that the two traditional Greek songs that Athena performed (one associated with Sotirou Bellou ?) were wonderful (although I couldn't relate to her own composition). Suffice to say that Vassilis for all his chops is not my cup of mountain tea. Note: do not read this next bit, or simply assume I am a twit, if you enjoyed his set. The mention of a collaboration with Vangelis in the programme failed to set the necessary klaxons off in my skull and I was subject to whooshing sounds of air being let out of pan-galactic pantechnicons (space ships with tyres..) from a keyboard while the odd pummelling drum and guitar riff launched a bombastic cushion for Vassilis to warble virtuosically yet meaninglessly over increasingly loudly. Dancing in the aisles was conspicuously absent. All in all a shame, as when he played the Greek tunes or when the lauto was audible, the musical potential glimmered srtrongly from the mire

PostPosted: Sun Jun 03, 2007 1:34 pm
by Leon Parker
Only went to the Fanfare Ciocarlia gig and yes it was everything Garth has said. For me it was seeing Emsa for the very first time and she is worth her weight in gold. To be in her presents was just another lifetime memory I will always have. So glad I caught her live as she is getting into her later years but her voice is still ringing in my hears. Age has but only improved her singing like a good wine.

PostPosted: Sun Jun 03, 2007 2:20 pm
by tulsehill charlie
Selim Sesler was magnificent, and left me wanting plenty more. At times it sounded as if he was playing 3 clarinets of different registers simultaneously. He has a brilliant ability to play a sort of subsonic bass under the vocals. Brenda MacCrimmon sang beautifully, gently exhorting the fine band, and getting plenty of response from them. They could have played all night.

The programming was I felt, a disaster (unusually for the Barbican). Chris is being polite. I couldn't find anything to like in the overbearing, seams showing rock arrangements of the Vassilis set and it was getting worse when I got out during the third number with great relief.

PostPosted: Sun Jun 03, 2007 4:37 pm
by Jenny
tulsehill charlie wrote:The programming was I felt, a disaster (unusually for the Barbican). Chris is being polite. I couldn't find anything to like in the overbearing, seams showing rock arrangements of the Vassilis set and it was getting worse when I got out during the third number with great relief.


I can't disagree with anything you and Chris say, except (T.Charlie) you possibly should have stuck with it for a few more tunes until Athena came on and (Chris) I thought her own song was a high point, when the tasteless synth player and the rest of that awful band stopped and left her and Vassilis Saleas to get on with some sensitive music. Otherwise it was a thoroughly unlistenable set. Did nobody tell him it was a gypsy culture festival not a new age rock bash before he chose his session musicians? Also, given her prominence in the lead-up promotion which was one of the reasons which tipped me into going last night, Athena should have been given a much longer feature, only 3 numbers was almost an insult. More of her generally slower, more spiritual material would have made a nice contrast to the great non-stop energy of the Salim Sesler set, and the bands could have been reversed in order to allow the night to end with everybody dancing. As you say, disastrous programming and I left feeling brought down and conned by the expectations the Barbican built.

PostPosted: Mon Jun 04, 2007 1:10 am
by garth cartwright
Yes, Selim was great tho i must add that i was not wowed by the Canadian vocalist: competent but nothing more. Once she left the stage the band seemed to rise to a whole nother level and the concert took off with some of the best playing of the entire festival. Selim, what a master . . .

Yes, Saleas a disaster - why is Greek music always so bad these days? It sounded like Jean Michel Jarre and Bon Jovi stuck in a Greek restaurant! Obviously, Saleas has amazing chops but by playing what the Greek public like he has lost all connection with his roots. Bryn Ormrod - who programmes the Barbican gigs - told me he knew he was taking a chance on Saleas as he had never heard him in concert. Well, he gambled and we lost. I can see the appeal of the concept - put Greek and Turkish on the same bill - but we would have been better served by getting Ferus Mustafov or Kocani Orkestar or Boban Markovic ie a master on the level of Selim. I stayed for Athena's numbers - the Greek songs were pleasant enough but the piano ballad was too soporifically singer songwriter for me so i took my leave.

PostPosted: Mon Jun 04, 2007 10:42 am
by Tom H
I was in London for the weekend so we went to both Friday and Saturday nights and definitely thought each was the proverbial game of two halfs.

I'd heard a few tracks by Amira before, but her opening set on Friday was a revelation. She is such a majestic singer, full of deep Balkan soul, and her accompanists, particularly the clarinet player and pianist, were perfectly attuned to her. When Taraf de Haidouks started their set I thought I was in for a thrilling ride but I must be a heretic here and say that their charm had worn off by half way through their set - individually brilliant no doubt, especially the cymbalom guy, but just too fast, furious and same-sounding to sustain it over a set that long. Their rather out-of-tune attempts to do classical made me wince. So - Bosnia 3, Rumania 1.

It was Saturday I'd really come looking forward to. Sesler's gang didn't disappoint even though, like Taraf De Haidouks, the throttle was kept down through most of the set which can tend to be a little exhausting. In their case, though, the tighter musicianship and well-placed long guest vocal spot by the excellent Brenna MacCrimmon made for a near-perfect hour. As for the second half, though, I have to go with the majority above. I don't know what I'd expected, but it wasn't bad new age ambient rock bombast. I could tell Saleas was a terrific player, but very quickly lost the will to focus on him and block out the sci-fi keyboard being inexpertly panned around the speakers. I thought things were looking up when Athena came on, she's I singer I generally like, so like Jenny above, was very irritated when she vanished again after 3 short songs to be replaced by a crooner with a bad haircut, so I hopped it. The after show in the foyer was good though, with bellydancers and Selim Sesler wailing over the DJ beats. Turkey 6, Greece 1.

Fashion notes from my better half. Was Amira's baggage lost en route?, she wondered, echoing Garth Cartwright in her suggestion that she hadn't changed since coming home from work. A voice that good doesn't need packaging, but a bit more effort might have been appropriate for a posh gig. Brenna MacCrimmon looked jolly and cuddly in her warm winter world music hippy outfit, she thought, but it must have been awfully hot under those lights - maybe it's necessary in Canada. But winning hands down on eyecatchingness, the slinky green Paris Hilton number that Athena was almost wearing was rivetting for a red blooded chap like me. "Bra manufactueres are going out of business", whispered my wife cattily, but I think she was jealous: even she admitted it quite took her mind off the keyboard players, which was definitely a good thing.

PostPosted: Mon Jun 04, 2007 11:22 am
by Seb Merrick
I presented Selim Sesler to Bryn Ormrod and he then developed the idea of a Turkish-Greek double-bill. Focusing on gypsy clarinet as a solo instrument from this region was very much the right thing to do in the context of this festival, being an alternative to the brass and fiddles already more familiar.

The tradition of the gypsy clarinet king in Turkey goes back a long way in the last century with players like Sukru Taner and Mustafa Kandirali taking their place in popular culture. The crown in Turkey has currently been claimed by Husnu Senlendirici, whose album Joy of Clarinet has sold over 200,000 copies in Turkey. Phenomenal and laudable for clarinet instrumental music even if the CD is over-produced for the tastes of many on this forum. I find it just great that there are probably hundreds of teenage boys wearing the Husnu earring and aspiring to be the next clarinet star. Wouldn't clarinet teachers in British schools just love such a role model. Husnu would have filled the Barbican on his own with London Turks, but Selim Sesler was the right choice for this festival, since he is one of the few who maintains pretty much an authentic style.

Selim's from a Roman gypsy family but does not speak Romanca. Quite the opposite of the rough rougish image of Taraf, Selim is a gentlemanly professional musician who has built up his career in the city. They flew back the next day to Istanbul to play a corporate gig in the evening. He still gigs twice a week in Istanbul restaurants, quite the best place to catch him for free.

Vassilis Saleas does speak Romanca/Romanska or whatever you call it in Greece, so was always a genuine candidate for this double bill. He's been a leading light to many players, revered in Turkey. Husnu's style is very much Vassilis Saleas and Vassilis has done concerts in Turkey with the guest appearance of another great Turkish player Serkan Cagri. Check the following clip. Though pretty new-agey it's recognisably gypsy-oriental and one or two numbers like this were ok as part of the Barbican concert - although there is a portly guy in this clip (show presenter?) stage left dropping off to sleep!!! pretty indicative.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MRhepz0P8MM

Vassilis simply came with the wrong band and played the wrong pieces. Must have been either through a lack of communcation and direction from this side or musical obstinancy on his side. It was a big pity and wasted opportunity, bad luck Bryn, it was truly awful. Athena was great, but only suitable in the context of the festival if she'd sung gypsy songs, like Amira who ditched her singer-songwriter repertoire for more traditional material.
Here by the way is Husnu and another Greek clarinettist Stavros Pazarentsis jamming at home, which shows the influence of Vassilis Saleas, and also the potency.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khHB_eVpIGA

And one (Turkish!) fan has already posted Vassilis' Barbican concert on Youtube (but not Selim), so there you are! This one is a more Greek sounding number and really fine.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFCdQwOLvn0

If you managed to stay to the end and later for the club stage, there was a special treat when we managed to persuade Selim to play to a couple of songs to some backing rhythms. That was worth waiting for.
For Youtube of Selim, this one with Brenna is probably the best
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYXNeqU5uEE

I totally disagree!

PostPosted: Mon Jun 04, 2007 9:48 pm
by JJ
Garth! I thought Kolpakov and Mahala were fab! didn't think it was tame just beautiful and entrancing. Mahala were absolutely amazing and their musicianship and repetoire is great too. i don't really know what you are talking about. but anyway..watch out for my review in Fly! heheheheheh

i am at this very moment watching the Taraf's dvd - now i know how they make that creeking house sound with the broken violin string! i had no idea.

I here there was a bit of tension onstage at the Taraf's gig? that's what i heard anyway.

Jill

PostPosted: Tue Jun 05, 2007 8:30 pm
by garth cartwright
Jill, all i can reply is to each their own and when you have experienced a few more Balkan bands i imagine your estimation of MRB will slip. As i didn't see the Russians i'm going purely on hearsay but i asked everyone i knew and opinion varied from "good fun" to "mediocre" with no one making any real claims for them. Must admit, i can't get my head around the Russian Gypsy CDs i have - baroque cabaret!

Didn't hear of any Taraf infighting and they all looked happy post-gig backstage. But as a creative unit they appear finished. Sad but it happens to everyone.

hmmm

PostPosted: Tue Jun 05, 2007 8:42 pm
by JJ
If playing gypsy music is your occupation and has been for years then I can see how one might be very critical of any act but for the average person who loves this music, its awesome. The 'gang' I was with included well known Balkan DJs, bellydancers and punters like me and everyone was more than satisfied it seemed to me! My main disappointment as always is in these theatres getting up and dancing seems almost rude (to the person behind)!

j