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PostPosted: Sun Jun 17, 2007 9:57 pm
by garth cartwright

The final night of the Barbican’s 1000 Year Journey Gypsy Music Festival involves an intriguing double bill: a Bulgarian accordion maestro and Spain’s foremost flamenco singer. Admittedly, I’ve seen Diego El Cigala a few years back when he performed the superb Lagrimas Negras album with veteran Cuban pianist Bebo Valdes. But I’ve never seen him play a straight flamenco set – Lagrimas Negras found Diego reinterpreting Cuban boleros, his raspy flamenco vocal a world away from Cuban crooners like Ibrahim Ferrer. I’m also aware of Martin Lubenov being instrumental in getting the international career of Bulgarian Gypsy soul singer Jony Iliev (part of The 1000 Year Journey’s Fanfare Ciocarlia night) off the ground. And I have a copy of his debut album Dui Droma/Two Roads (Connecting Cultures) which is pleasant if a little too jazz- fusion for my liking.

Still, a night with high expectations. Lubenov’s eight piece band take the stage and it’s clear that this Vienna-based outfit – so many Balkan citizens now live in Austria’s capital it’s now considered by some to be a Balkan city (much to the horror of the local burghers, I’m sure) – are intent on playing Balkan flavoured jazz. Still, they hang together well: tight, powerful, locking into tunes as an ensemble and never overindulging solos. A blind singer/acoustic guitarist joins the band on several numbers: he sings with a clear, powerful voice that rises and rises so recalling Saban Bajramovic. His surname is Iliev so makes me wonder if he’s related to Jony? For a couple of numbers the 3 horns and singer are dismissed and the excellent clarinettist, double bass, guitar, drums and Lubenov’s accordion engage in some excellent wedding music of the type popularised by Ivo Papasov (tho nowhere near as powerful as Ivo’s recent Islington set). The last number allows every musician to do one of those “look at meâ€