Kocani Orkestar

Une Fanfare Tsigane

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There's nothing to equal the sound of a Gypsy brass band from the Balkans in full flight, and the Kocani Orkestar are one of the best. Led by cornet player Naat Veliov, they power their way through music that's mostly traditional (the exception is "Nejatov Cocek," composed by Veliov), in a winning style. The rhythm section -- three tubas, bass tuba, drum, and accordion -- give an appropriately solid foundation to the material, while saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, and cornet tackle the treacherous time signatures and switchback melodies on top, making it a joy to watch -- like a professional driver negotiating a dangerous mountain road without brakes. Several of the pieces are introduced with trepaza, slow improvisations around the melody by one instrument before the band kicks in. "Kerta Mangad Dae" brings in Violete Filipova on vocals, with the band percolating underneath, instruments darting up between verses to solo frantically. There's plenty of melody throughout this disc -- don't be fooled by the breakneck playing -- with arrangements that are both considered and imaginative and playing that's often virtuosic (Erol Asimov on saxophone and clarinet is a standout). Even in a genre that brings intense joy, this is a winner

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