Kepa Junkera,
(EMI Hispanovox, 2003)

Kepa Junkera is a legend in the Basque country, Euskadi, and with good reason. He's the great musical ambassador of his people. This much-anticipated new live collection from the master of the Basque diatonic accordion, or trikitixa, shows Junkera is just as much at home on stage as he is in the studio.

Junkera, ably assisted as usual by a host of talented friends from across the Basqueland and around the world, gives us two hours of music that will swell the ranks of his legion of admirers worldwide. With his triki, he weaves a number of stories that evoke the traditions and landscapes of his beloved Basque region.

Although K suffers from some of the usual pitfalls of live recordings, such as inconsistent audio, lack of new material and lengthy bits of applause, it also faithfully conveys the atmosphere at Bilbao's Teatro Arriaga concert hall.

There are 19 tracks, of which eight are recycled from Junkera's most recent CD, Maren, although the versions differ significantly from the originals. Interestingly, he has chosen to remove all lead vocals from the live versions of songs such as "Ny Hirahira."

Bulgarka does provide lead vocals on "Sunne" although, because of the strained quality of the audio, the effect is that of a beautiful but far-away choir. But the emphasis in K is on the trikitixa, the txalaparta (a Basque percussion instrument for two players) and other instrumental elements.

As usual, Junkera features some exceptional musicians. The horns of La Bottine Souriante turn up on a number of tracks, including most memorably on "Herrik Shaw"and "Ortiguiera Dantza." Alos Quartet, a Basque string section, provides another key element, particularly on "Oliene" and on the pensive "Bihar Arte." "Huriondo" is a memorable duet with Provencal mandolin virtuoso Patrick Vaillant. The duo Oreka TX brings the ancient sounds of the txalaparta to nearly every track.

This is a new band, with a different sound and feel from the side-musicians Junkera performed with on recent albums Maren and Bilbao 00:00h. Kike Mora is on bass. Dani Tomas provides some memorable moments on acoustic guitar, particularly on "Bihar Arte." Kepa Calvo is a little heavy-handed on the drum kit, however. While I'm not convinced they are superior, they do fit the live performance of the songs. Also featured is the choir Coro Donostia. On Junkera's signature tune, "Bok Espok," and the finale, "Ny Hirahira," almost everyone gets involved.

As for the rest, "Odolaren Boza" is interesting, but what happened to the volume levels on this track? "Zirkinipez" by contrast is a typical Junkera up-tempo number with lots of live energy. There is much more to enjoy: nearly two hours worth.

Another masterpiece by Junkera? Almost. As usual, he stretches the limits of what can be done with his instrument and with the musicians around him. There is plenty to listen to. And, typically, it works most of the time, and works its way as well into your sub consciousness.

Junkera does not always succeed in his ambitions, but he's not afraid to try. He composes, he produces and he plays, sublimely. He refuses to play it safe. He continues to make interesting, challenging music and stretch the limits of his instrument.

And as for the "K" of the title, besides being Junkera's first initial, it's also a proudly Basque signifier -- Spanish and French rarely use the letter. In Bilbao, under the 1937-1976 Spanish dictatorship, he'd probably have been known as "Pedro Junquera." The letter K, and the Basque language and culture, were virtually outlawed. Now they flourish.

- Rambles
written by David Cox
published 6 March 2004