The booklet for this release from Jordi Savall and his Hespèrion XXI ensemble, this time composed largely of Balkan musicians, weighs in at an awe-inspiring 396 pages. The size is not due to any special plenitude of information; indeed, two of the historical essays duplicate each other to a large extent, and one is actually left wanting to learn more about the various instruments one is hearing. Instead, the page count is inflated by the translation of the material into no fewer than 13 languages, including Greek, Croation, Turkish, and apparently Bulgarian. This is in line with Savall's generally idealistic aims, outlined in an essay of his own that stresses the rich cultural legacy generated by the unity of experience in the region. Some of his assertions are open to question, for example that the word "Balkan" is derived from the Turkish words for honey and blood. Savall plans a further album of music under this title, but the derivation is suspect. At any rate, the performances conform to Hespèrion XXI's usual high standards. As may occur with Savall's recordings of purely popular or folk material, there are times in the faster dances when you wish for the muddy intoxication that a barroom or club performance of the same tune would bring. However, again as usual, the variety and selection of the material give the listener a lot to chew on and in a grand, global way raise issues that others have attacked only piecemeal. Those fast dances, Savall seems to suggest, present a common fund of material, heavily Gypsy in origin, that has been filtered through a variety of local traditions from Turkish to Bulgarian, Greek, Serbian, Sephardic Jewish, and more. The most entrancing pieces are the slow ones, which indeed one would not hear in a bar and are suited to the more contemplative experience of listening to a CD or digital file. Hear the Gypsy mallet percussion piece Azt hittem hogy minden könnyem (track 8), which is absolutely hypnotic. Also of special interest is track 14, Ciocârlia/Seva, which was composed for the dedication of the Eiffel Tower in 1889; it is a fascinating fusion of Balkan melody and Western tonality, and it's worth the purchase price of the album all by itself. All the music is instrumental, but it may be that vocal music is planned for the follow-up volume. Despite a few questions about the execution of the project here, this is another in Savall's brilliant series of releases that resurrect the traditional music of southern Europe in an entirely original way.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim