Les Yeux Noirs,
(World Village, 2002)

Listeners to this live recording of a series of concerts given in Paris in February 2002 by French formation Les Yeux Noirs are in for a musical riot. The stage act performed by this eight-man strong troupe radiates energy and passion. The ensemble was put together by brothers Eric and Olivier Slabiak, scions of a family of musicians with the blood of Gypsies and Polish Jews in their veins.

Les Yeux Noirs presents therefore a potpourri of Klezmer and Gypsy music. Unlikely as this mixture might seem, the result is an entertaining example of fusion music. On this CD the audience is regaled with 18 tracks covering a wide range of compositions derived from the riches of southern and eastern Europe's musical heritage. The collection consists of both original compositions and arrangements of existing pieces by Les Yeux Noirs.

The opening number "Cioara" will get the listener immediately in the mood. After a brief intro by Marian Miu on cimbalom, a dry percussion beat takes over and is quickly joined by Eric and Olivier Slabiak on violin. This Les Yeux Noirs original is followed by a temperamental arrangement of a traditional song titled "Sanie Cu Zurgale," which leaves ample room for solos by the ensemble's instrumentalists.

After that the audience gets a brief respite and can recover with a rendition of Abraham Goldfaden's classic "Rozinkhes (Raisins)," a Yiddish lullaby and all-time favorite on Klezmer albums. Other songs in a similar vein are the tracks "Liebkeit (Tenderness)" and "Yiddishe Mame."

Another delicate song -- "Lluba" -- is even covered twice on the album: the first being a subdued version with minimal instrumental accompaniment, and the other as the album's closing bonus track, on which Les Yeux Noirs is joined by a children's choir.

Traditional tunes of a wilder mode are the brief musical intermezzo "Calusul" and more contemporary arrangements of "Ot Azoi" and "Tchaye," which blend an oriental undercurrent with a vocal exuberance reminiscent of the Gypsy Kings. The group's own "Joc de Loop" and their arrangement of "Hora Ca Caval" deserve to be mentioned. I have acquired a particular liking for the cimbalom performances on this last composition and on "Cymbalum."

But it is with their own interpretations of "Alouette" and "Danse du Sabre" that Les Yeux Noirs absolutely explodes. Under an exhausting beat the Slabiak's drive their violins to a screaming pitch.

With this kind of music Les Yeux Noirs is not only offering entertainment, but probably performing a vital function in drawing an increasingly diverse French society together through the medium of music. Some indication of that awareness can be heard at the end of "Danse du Sabre," where one of the vocalists questions the audience on whether they like Gypsies, Jews, Turks, Afghans, Israelis and Palestinians, to which a roaring crowd replies affirmative.

- Rambles
written by Carool Kersten
published 28 August 2004

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