Lucid Culture


CD Review: Ivo Papasov – Dance of the Falcon

Considered the gold standard for Eastern European clarinet playing, Ivo Papasov honed his chops on the highly competitive wedding circuit in his native Bulgaria in the 70s. After that, he managed to survive a nasty battle with the Soviets, who persecuted and imprisoned him during a crackdown on non-Soviet art forms, Papasov being Turkish-speaking and Roma (the nomadic European people formerly known as gypsies) by ancestry, both no-nos in the Soviet satellites. Since then, he’s gone on to considerable fame throughout the Europe and elsewhere, winning a BBC Award in the process.


If this album was a rollercoaster, it would be the kind that goes upside down and backwards, doing spins and loop-de-loops at 200 KPH (that’s kilometers per hour where Papasov comes from). It’s definitely not something you want to put on as you slip off to dreamland, but in terms of raw, pure adrenaline, this cd has no equal in recent years. Stylistically, the most apt comparison is the extraordinary Greek clarinetist Lefteris Bournias, although without the obvious Coltrane-isms; in spirit if not in style, Papasov’s closest musical relative is the great blues guitarist Albert Collins, a player who matched surgical precision with completely unhinged, reckless abandon. Here, except for a couple of beautifully lush, orchestrated numbers, Papasov is backed by a rhythm section who pretty much stay out of the way. Which is probably good, something that will make perfect sense once you hear it.


The cd kicks off with its brisk title track, a simple two-chord vamp over which Papasov airs out his voluminous bag of tricks (pun intended). For someone with such blistering speed, Papasov is an extraordinarily precise player, flurry after flurry of perfectly articulated notes flying by almost before you hear them. But he doesn’t just blow wild clusters: while much of this is “licks” music, that is, a stylized genre like blues where certain specific phrases will recur, he’s playing melodies and most of them are wildly and starkly beautiful. Papasov then proves it’s actually possible to play even faster on another original, Tinner’s Dance, possibly the best track (certainly the most gripping one) on the cd. Their cover of the Pink Panther theme barely qualifies as one: after ten seconds at the head, they dive headlong into rich gypsy jazz, beautifully textured with piano.


The next two tracks, Sunrise and Hubava Si Moya Gora offer what some may find a welcome relief from all the wailing intensity, but Papasov maintains a dark, steely presence throughout. The wedding night song Sweet Rakia in Rozino grows perhaps predictably from eager anticipation to exultation (the crowd are all relieved to get the sign from the bedroom that the bride was indeed a virgin); the cd concludes on a beautifully lush, haunting note with Prayer from the Mountains, Papasov flying dangerously and exhilaratingly low over the orchestra’s sweeping majesty.


Devoted fans of Balkan music have probably already gone out and gotten their import copies (the cd went onsale in the UK last summer). Hint: if you’re intrigued by this cd but you’re not familiar with many styles outside of western music, just pretend the accidentals are the actual notes in the scale (which, in the case of Bulgarian music, they actually are). Watch this space for upcoming NYC area shows: Papasov is a live musician by trade and his reputation precedes him.

January 15, 2009 - Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. A great musician, indeed..

    Comment by Croytaque | February 14, 2009 | Reply

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