Aka Balkan Moon/AlefBa: Double Live
Here is another interesting release that has got my attention. Aka Moon started in the late '80s and have almost twenty albums to their credit. Here they are dubbed Aka Balkan Moon. Their musical roots lie in the folk music of The Balkans but they have taken their Gypsy folk leanings and branched out into many different forms and styles touching on baroque, world, funk, classical, rock and of course jazz and fusion. The core of the band is Fabrizio Cassol (alto saxophone), Michel Hatzigeorgiou (Fender jazz bass) and Stéphane Galland (drums). The trio also remains the heart of AlefBa with the support of nine other musicians.
The music on the first disc dubbed Aka Balkan Moon takes its roots from Balkan folk music and features Gypsy musicians as a supporting cast. The first track "Baba" starts with intriguing elastic-like percussion before the kaval (a traditional Balkan flute-like instrument) weaves its distinct tone throughout the piece. It's a complex song and ebbs and flows through varying soundscapes ranging from Balkan folk music to jazz fusion with excellent sax, violin, piano, bass and drum work. The band really starts to cook towards the end before a pretty piano melody caps it off. My only complaint is the Gypsy style vocals. It's not that they are poorly done per se it's just not my cup of tea. "Dali" is another highly intricate excursion into Gypsy-style folk and jazz. While the song does vary in intensity this is largely a more laid back affair but does contain varying tempos with dissonant piano chords and melodic sax work. Again, the vocals are not to my taste but the music is quite engaging. "Bulgarian Study" is a drum/percussion driven instrumental with tribal sounding drums and soloing that will take your breath away. The kaval, sax and violin add more exotic touches as they play off one another throughout the piece. The last track "Upon Mi-Si-La" is quite mellow with gently flowing instrumentation and a really cool bass solo near song's end. The playing is exemplary as it is throughout the disc although the melodies didn't grab me right away.
The second disc titled AlefBa opens with "Monkey", a sometimes softer tune featuring gentle guitar and oud adding an exotic Middle Eastern element although the pace does quicken at times demonstrating the band's outstanding musicianship. The vocals are in the Middle Eastern vein and again not really my style but are well executed. In "Brume Du Matin" the deep bass groove is really good and the violin and flute add an exotic Arabic vibe. I believe the vocals are also in Arabic. Another highlight is the santur (a hammered dulcimer) intro in "Hadi", another track paved in a foundation of Middle Eastern and Egyptian elements. For those of you who appreciate the sounds of the Middle East and Egypt, AlefBa should hit all the right notes.
While the vocals provided a slight barrier for me (just in language not execution), Double Live certainly takes the sounds of Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa combining jazz, folk and world music in a unique and interesting way.
CD 1 - Aka Balkan Moon
1. Baba (15.22)
2. Dali (12.55)
3. Bulgarian Study (7:26)
4. Okio (8:26)
5. Mome Kalino (4:36)
6. A.K.A. Stésté (5:24)
7. Upon Mi-Si-La (11:58)
CD 2 – AlefBa
1. Monkey (13:31)
2. Brume Du Matin (7:40)
3. Hadi (15:42)
4. Sinaï (13:06)
5. Comedia (13:15)
6. Divina Comedia (4:25)
Added: February 21st 2016
Reviewer: Jon Neudorf
Related Link: Label's Official Site
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