This is just what listeners need: a collection of radicalized street-smart jazz (tailor-made for soundtracks), jazz-funk, and fusion sounds from Yugoslavia in the late '70s and early '80s. No, I'm not jivin'. Balkan Express features eight tracks (how perfect) of slinky, funky, highly stylized imitations of American soundtrack and bachelor pad music -- of the same variety that was made here almost 20 years before. And the truth is that this would be pure kitsch if the musicianship, arrangements, and tunes themselves weren't so badass great. Once the lack of originality is dispensed with, you can get down to the grease: Dusko Gojkovic's "Quo Vadis Samba," a theme taken right from the film with its awesome, post-bossa rhythmic inventions and front-line horn invention that would never have been part of a Brazilian recording. The arrangement is tight, almost choppy, but the tone on the horns is smooth as Kessler's. Then there's Milan Stojanovic's read of "Bag's Groove" by Miles Davis, with its sinister minor-key opening and slinky, shifty flute as the lead line instead of a muted trumpet, giving the entire thing a spy movie feel. The bluesy soloing in the break is wonderfully done and the rhythm section, even though they're walkin' off the time and nothing more, is straight-eighting it all the way with feeling. Also, the RTB Big Band should not go unmentioned for its arrangement of the title track, which is funky as hell with odder-than-Milosevic harmonies in the reed section. Misa Blam comes in with "Memory," a sub-Herbie Mann groover, but it's dirtier and grittier, as if it were recorded in the foundry. Finally, Bora Rokovic's "String-Em" is a dead knockoff of Ennio Morricone, with glissando strings, reverb, spacious architecture, and a full-on fuzak interlude that slips the funky groove into the listener's mind through the back door. This is an awesome collection, and necessary for anybody's incredibly strange music library.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek