Author: Ralph Katz
Date: 2003-10-29 16:42
The Yuri Yunakov Ensemble with guest Ivo Papazov performed last night, 10/28/03, at the Michgan Union Ballroom in Ann Arbor. This is the way the event was billed, anyway. It is difficult to think of Mr. Papazov as a side man. His playing is so dominating that the event was really his, and Mr. Yunakov and his Ensemble became the side men.
With the exception of vocalist and lecturer Carol Silverman, this was an all-Bulgarian group: Yunakov (alto sax), Papazov (clarinet), Nesho Neshev (accordion), Kalin Kirilov (guitar), and Saliv Ali (drum kit.) [These are the spellings used on the evening's printed program.] In contrast, Mr. Yunakov's U.S. recordings on Traditional Crossroads include an entirely different group of players.
Ivo Papazov is the most well-known musician in Bulgaria. Liner notes from his "Balkanology" CD state that, once his career was was established, Bulgarians would schedule their weddings around Mr. Papazov's schedule, delaying for months or years, or else staging the events in mid-week. Typical of these events, speakers would be setup outside the church, so that uninvited people, some who came from substantial distances, could also listen and dance.
Mr. Papazov has an uncanny command of the instrument. My first impression was "how the heck does he play so many notes?" This is the same thing I thought when I heard Mr. Yunakov live several years ago, but the contrast between their skill sets is there. I watched Papazov use every on his Selmer 10S full Boehm. He can produce every gradient between a very clean modern sound, and as dirty a zurna (a sort of Bulgarian bagpipe chanter) sound as you can imagine. He can trill equally well with all fingers (yes, even his left pinky.) I really want to know how he achieves quarter-tone tuning that make him sound (at least to my naive Western ear) Arabic.
This is loud and very high-energy music, designed for dancing. The largest contingent in the audience seemed to be from the internation folk-dancing communities in Lansing and Ann Arbor, and it didn't take too long to get them out of their seats.
The program states that Papazov invented "Bulgarian Wedding Style" music. This has very traditional roots, but replaces gudulka, gajda, kaval, tambura, and tupan with modern instruments. Traditional dances (kopanica, cocek, lesnotho, etc.) are transformed. They are highly ornamented, and subtly altered. The melody and emphasis moves all over the bar, which can make things hard to follow when the rhythm is 7/8, 9/8 or harder still 11/8. Everybody in the group does this, especially the drummer. On the other hand, if you tap out the rhythm on your lap, or better still with your feet on the dance floor, everything makes perfect sense. But try to listen to it without this physicality and you may well be left out in the cold.
An important part traditional music from this part of the world is its improvisational nature. One persons is the leader at any given time, and the leader may pass off leadership to someone else with just an eye signal. There will be a mix of standard tunes and pure improvization, as determined by the leader. At the end of each melodic section, the other players hold back briefly to see what the leader does. There may be a new melody, a change in key for improvization, or some combination. In this culture, the test of a good musician is how fast they can react to these changes. Last nights players were so good that you would probably not detect that the tunes were not all worked out in advance if you didn't first know to watch for the signals.
Bulgarians apparently like things loud. I used foam earplugs through most of the evening and still heard things well. Without the plugs, sitting in the 2nd row, Papazov was clear even when he was playing off-mike. Yunakov played with a clip mike, to which he selectively added reverb with a standard foot-pedal unit. Papazov worked his wireless stand mike, sometimes close, sometimes away from it, and sometimes playing with it right up his bell. For several extended solos, Yunakov removed his clip mike and held it for Papazov to work with the added reverb. This level of interplay between the musicians was apparent through out the evening. It was apparent that everyone on stage was listening to and enjoying each other's solos.
This was a trememdous opportunity for me to hear six virtuoso performers live. Several of us remarked, unbeknownst to each other, "We have heard Ivo Papazov; now we can die in peace."
Mr. Papazov's CD's are out-of-print, and none which included him were available there.
Their next concerts are in Chicago and St. Louis, but I don't have any information on them. E-mail me and I can make some inquiries.