Monday, 16 April 2012

Taraf de Haidouks

Svend Brown is shaping up as something of a visionary programmer. Not content with pushing the Minimal Extreme Festival, he invited Johnathan Morton - the fiend witha violin who fronts the Scottish Ensemble - to curate another minimal festival. And while there were a few moments of disappointment - Icebreaker's ponderous yet loose reading of Glassworks, The Hilliard's strangulated modern choral take on Paradise Lost - the line up was diverse and provocative. And in Taraf de Haidouks, he selected a strong argument for the importance of the violin as a boundary busting, hard-rocking instrument to shame the rebellious hegemony of the guitar.

Morton's no slouch on the four stringn himself - last year he demonstrated that Vivaldi's Four Seasons has more edge than any popular global commodity deserves. Yet in Taraf, and the supporting electronic/ violin maestro mash-up from Pekkar Kuusisto, Morton selected artists from the wilder parts of the musical world. Taraf de Haidouks look disreputable, with one member lurking like a gangster until called upon to throw out some argumentative lyrics, and the whistle player disappearing during the encore for a cheeky cigarette: yet when the  dual violin frontline, a couple of wheezing accordions and a jazzy clarinet are driven along by a frenzy of double bass and hammered dulcimer, they cross beyond their gypsy sound and land squarely in punk energy territory.

Not that Taraf have anything in common with the brain-dead punk revivalists, who mistook thuggish monotony for rebellion (a few members of Taraf appear to remember the 1920s, both musically and physically): it's the reckless abandon that informs their precise playing. Melting down Eastern European melodies, a touch of Hot Jazz, fragmentrs of Klezmer, they are so fast, so abrupt, so assured.

Of course, Morton has now set Brown a challenge: can he curate a programme that has the same eclectic energy as this combination? Kuusisto did the experimental modernity - tinged with a few adventures into Finnish folk romance - while Taraf just shock the Fruitmarket. Brown has admittted that he is influenced by the lamented Triptych Festival: can he go one louder?

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