Les Yeux Noirs,
(EMI, 2000;
World Village, 2002)

Klezmer has been associated with many musical traditions. With Balamouk, Les Yeux Noirs let klezmer out of its pen to play with all the other nice music it finds. Driven by the excellent violin work of Eric and Olivier Slabiak, the results swing from exuberance to despair, playing with jazz, gypsy and everything in between.

The title song, "Balamouk," opens with a watery, thumping percussion that's soon caught up in the spinning notes of a fiddle. As though preparing the listener for the variety of the album, "Balamouk" varies between solemnity and abandon. Almost too soon, the winding path of the opening song takes us to "Tchaye," a vocally driven song somehow reminiscent of Latin dance music. After a quick dance with "Tchaye," we're left to catch our breath with a slow, plodding "Yiddishe Mama." Those who begin to lose interest in her wailing will soon be refreshed by "Cioara," a colorful gypsy caravan of a song.

The entire album follows these quick swings of mood. Instruments whirl or drag, often in the same song; singers switch from chants to hyper dancing songs with no feeling of incongruity -- and such joy that I felt envious. If there's one thing missing from Balamouk, it's a translated lyrics sheet that might let poor English speakers know what they're missing out on. But there's no time to mope about misunderstandings with "Joc De Loop" and "Guene Roma" ordering up a dance!

There's so much energy crackling along the tracks of Balamouk that it's hard to believe there's no electric instruments involved. But all the power here comes from the musicians and singers, violins, guitar, accordion and all the other players coming together to roam the wilds of music. It's a fast-moving, emotional journey the listener can't help but join.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 11 January 2003

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