Some pretty marvelous singularities have arisen from gaggles of musicians getting together to have a good time...this ensemble, for instance. Super Raoul ('raoul' is gypsy slang for 'cool') is a live recording capturing a septet of overachieving, young, international musicians who'd played together for only three weeks (!!!) before climbing up on stage to wow 'em in Santa Cruz and Oakland, California. What becomes immediately obvious is the fact that such a thing could only be done through individuals long accomplished on their instruments, but still—three weeks and they got THIS tight? Rather astounding.
The Ensemble blends, as the blurb ("Gypsy Flamenco Frenzy!") on the cover portends, not only klezmer, gypsy, flamenco, balkan folk, and God only knows what else into their work, but also slices of ghazal, prairie, and an eclectic selection of whatever struck their fancy in the composing process. This sort of thing hasn't often been pulled off well. Two bands who immediately come to mind are Les Variations and String Driven Thing, a couple of 70s unknowns who combined occidental and oriental exotica for an unusual rock product leaning to progrock, experiments that ultimately failed in their cases. Fishtank Ensemble is a lot more progressive than those cats were. Fabrice Martinex wields a daunting violin, as does singer Ursula Knudson, while accordion, shamisen, guitar, bass, percussion, and even a saw wail away behind them.
There's a healthy dose of musical humor present, albeit never heavy, leaking through in the titles (Itty Bitty Snitty Little Frenchman, Troll Wedding). Mainly, much of this is good-time, rave-up, old world fare renovated for modern ears imbued with elder sensibities. Had Fishtank played at a Greek, Moroccan, or Hungarian restaurant, not a whole lot of moussaka, borscht, goulash, or…hell, I don't know…candied snails?…would be sold, though much ouzo and wine would've flowed and tons of old country dancing would've spontaneously erupted.
Fare like this is what was originally meant by "world music": joyous (at least in this case), knowledgeable, definitely athletic indulgences in the melding of the best of several cultures, bent to the benefit of all. World Music, ladies and gentlemen was originally part and parcel of the fusion sub-genre of progressive rock and jazz. The Klezmorim, for one, excelled at it, as has a small sub-culture of past and newly unique bands. We all could do with a whole lot more. Compositions this complex and frenetic are also what popped up in bluegrass, much of which took its inspiration from gigues, both of which can always use a few reminders of what the styles were formed for.
Half the songs on the CD are traditional and arranged by the band. Expect lots of virtuosic performances, even from the rhythm unit, and this Martinez is a guy to watch closely. Talent like his will not content itself to remain in the small realm of indie musics.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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