Çedille's The Balkan Project features the Cavatina Duo -- flutist Eugenia Moliner and guitarist Denis Azabagic -- in a program of 16 arrangements for the mini-ensemble of Balkan folk songs arranged by talented contemporary composers. The term "The Balkans" refers to a region of Southeastern Europe typified by the presence of the Balkan mountain range and made up of the Balkan peninsula, though there are places without the Peninsula that are still considered Balkan. Here one may find the nations of Greece, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Montenegro with parts of Turkey and Romania figuring into the cultural mix as well. One thing many of these places have in common is that the Turks dominated much of this region by the mid-17th century; by the 19th century, Turkey slowly began to loosen much of its grip on the region. Many 21st century residents associate the Balkans with war, owing to the protracted conflict between former Yugoslav republics in the 1990s and that the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand -- the event that lit the fuse of World War I -- was carried out by a Serb, Gavrilo Princip. Despite the seemingly unending conflict that has torn away at this region, the Balkans remain a treasure trove of folk melody largely owing to its centuries long role as a midway station for various cultures to intersect. While The Balkan Project does not include melodies from necessarily every national player in the region, it's fairly comprehensive and the pieces contain many musical features that stem from the region, primarily complex, compound rhythmic patterns and mixed/exotic kinds of modes.
One special bonus from the outset is that The Balkan Project contains three pieces by Clarice Assad, swiftly gaining recognition as one of the most talented composers of her generation. However, some of the other pieces are particularly strong, such as Denis Sparavalo's Psevdah No. 2/Clear Water and Alan Thomas' The Shepherd's Dream. The recorded sound is generally clear, warm, and rather quiet, though there are a couple of spots where the flute is mixed rather aggressively high. If there is any real complaint about The Balkan Project, though, is the non-descript nature of some of the material; one thinks some exposure to the work of Lou Harrison might help make some of these pieces memorable in addition to being attractive and technically sound. Throughout, The Balkan Project is a strong effort on the part of the Cavatina Duo and certainly a good disc for a relaxing journey to exotic places and folk tunes and dances one might well not normally encounter.