Kepa Junkera, |
(Bilbao Zero Hour)
It's rare that an album lives up to its advance billing and reviews. It's even rarer that a recording changes your way of listening to music. Kepa Junkera's breakthrough album of 1999, Bilbao 00:00h, is just such a recording.
From beginning to end of this two-disc set, Junkera opens the listener up to a world of folk music. While letting a wide variety of musicians takes centre stage, he shows in each why he is considered a master of the trikitixa, the Basque accordion.
The album, like the city for which it is named, is a revelation. It's an industrial and banking centre hemmed in by lush green mountains. Bilbao is the major city in Euskadi, the Spanish Basque country. In the late 1990s it opened up to the world with a new airport, a new subway system and the shimmering Guggenheim Bilbao art museum. Similarly, Junkera on this disc opens ancient Basque musical traditions to the world, and his accordion is the centefpiece.
Here you can enjoy the valiha playing of Malagasy musician Justin Vali, the exuberance of Quebec folk stars La Bottine Souriante, the banjo of American bluegrass musician Bela Fleck and other world musicians, alongside Junkera and traditional Basque folk musicians.
La Bottine and Kepa open the first disc with the rousing instrumental "Arin Quebec," followed by the more leisurely "Del Hierro a Madagascar," sung by Pedro Guerra. Soprano Dulce Pontes is featured on a memorable (if breathy) version of the Basque ballad "Maitia Nun Zira," and then Kepa teams up with Sweden's Hedningarna on an atmospheric "Bok Espok." (A very different version of this song appears on his subsequent CD Maren.)
The second disc starts equally impressively with "Fali-faly," Justin Vali's song featuring soloists from several continents. Then a beautiful slow tune for "Karola de Mar," the industrial crane that ferried workers across the river Nervion in Bilbao (only a Bilbaino could write a love song to an industrial crane). Then there's "Piti and Iturrigorri," a fast-moving Kepa Junkera original with Vali on the valiha and the remarkable Julio Andrade on double bass. And this followed by "Loriak Udan," a folksong featuring Benito Lertxundi, a legend of Basque folk. Then "Arin Oskorri," a more traditional style Basque instrumental featuring the group Oskorri. "Sodade" features Dulce Pontes on a Portuguese fado song.
That's just a sampling. Kepa Junkera can do it all. Vali, Andrade and the rest of the cast are impressive as well. The variety and the quality of this recording are outstanding.
Most of the lyrics are available in the original and English translation, (though most songs are instrumentals) and the liner notes also provide musical credits for each song. Even with close to two hours of music here, it still leaves the listener wanting more.