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Roma Variations

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Album Review

Yuri Yunakov is the gentle giant of Bulgarian wedding music, a huge man who even did a bit of professional boxing before emigrating to the United States. Born in Thrace, this brilliant sax virtuoso was a founding icon of the style, which was enormously popular but often got him in serious trouble with the communist regime then in power, who were attempting to force demure folk ensembles down their countrymen's throats. However, the hairspin curves, feverish bpms, and abrupt rhythmic switcheroos of wedding music were what the people wanted. Practitioners like Yunakov, clarinet player Ivo Papasov, and accordionist Ivan Milev were kept busy providing live soundtracks for celebrations that often went on for several days (and nights) at a time, routinely drawing huge audiences from the surrounding countryside, depleting local food supplies, and blocking vehicular traffic for miles around. Roma Variations consists of a series of rocking, extroverted fusions built on Roma-Bulgarian-Turkish dance tunes and fuelled by ardent collaborations and/or duels between the sax and accordion. Guest artist Milev, who sits in here, discovered Yunakov and encouraged him to switch from clarinet to saxophone. The duo sail unfazed over dizzyingly fast, shifting time signatures, essaying complex melodic images with explosive but tightly controlled aplomb. Completely attuned to one another's musical process, they even toss in an impish but strangely appropriate quote from the works of classical composer/violinist Niccolò Paganini! They are backed by a sympathetic consort of musicians who miraculously manage to keep it together despite the frenetic pace set by the mischievous pair up front.

Roma Variations, Yuri Yunakov Ensemble
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