November 12, 2005
I've been a huge fan of clarinetist Ivo Papasov ever since the late '80s/early '90s when Orpheus Ascending and Balkanology came out in the US (and Papsov's appearance on David Sanborn's extraordinary network music show, "Night Music"). These were by his band variously labeled "His Orchestra" or his "Bulgarian Wedding Band." But hearing them live eluded me-I don't think they toured the US much, and in the USSR/dictatorship days of Bulgaria, I know Papasov had been in hot water for a time. But the original "Wedding Band" that Papasov formed in the '70s, the Trakija Ensemble, had accordion player Nesho Neshev and saxophonist Yuri Yunakov in it, and they were in his later group as well, and later on, drummer Salif Ali.
Papasov has reunited this group, augmented by a guitar/bassist and a female singer/MC. This absolutely staggering band in on tour in the US at the moment, and I caught them here (videoclip) in Chicago (at the Old Town School of Folk Music) last night. It was one of the most memorable performances I've ever attended of anything. They thrive on odd meters including 9, 11, 13, 17, sometimes soulfully, but often played blindingly fast, but still, somehow, danceable (if you're an octopus, especially). They mix Balkan folk and dance forms with jazz and rock, and the music is somehow fluid while driving staccato stuttering lines. They have a new album out, "Together Again," which is exceptional. Papasov addressed the crowd frequently in Bulgarian and it seemed like a good third of the crowd were with him, and the two encores brought many of them to their feet in a snaking dance that moved through the crowd. See this group, buy the disc, be amazed.