Koumpania Xalkias is a group of traditional village dance musicians from Epirus, the northwestern region of Greece. Its musicians represent three generations of men from the same family. Clarinetists Kostas and Yorgos Xalkias are brothers. Their sons, both named Dimitri, play accordion and frame drum. The grandfather, Antonios Kotikas, is the violinist. A friend of the family, Apostolis Méllis, plays the lute, thus bringing the group up to the standard instrumentation. This album was recorded in the studio on two separate occasions in 2000 and 2003. The performance follows a typical village gathering, the songs being presented in extended dance suites. The recording quality is good; only the accordion tends to disappear into the music. The group is flexible and quick-witted; transitions between tunes are fast and often seamless. Improvisation also plays a key role in this music. Both clarinetists (the leading instrument in this kind of music) vie with each other in originality when it comes to melodic ornamentation and are prone to launch into improvised solos before announcing the next melody. The group also often begins a suite with a slow-paced collective improvisation. "Miroloï, Poghonissia," a suite in 4/4, is of particular interest: the improvisations, some of them surprisingly free-form, display a nice sense of theatrics, while shifts in tempo are extremely accurate. The Xalkias may not have the best voices in Greece -- and they don't sing a lot -- but their prowess as an ensemble is something to hear. Recommended.
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