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Carpathia Project - Carpathia Project CD (album) cover


Carpathia Project


Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.63 | 26 ratings

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3 stars Never Mind the Balkans?

It seems that my insatiable love of eastern European folk music is blind to the tell tale warnings clearly marked on the label. In this case that of shred specialists Guitar Nine Records. The words 'Hungary' and 'Carpathia' are all that is required to have me sprinting to the counter and throwing dog-eared wonga at the surly mongrel guarding the till. (Shopping in Australia cannot be dissimilar to obedience training for the owners of dogs paid for by their pets) The indigenous peasant music of the Balkans region has been a rich and fertile source of inspiration for many western musicians, but what of their 'ain' folk we ask ourselves. What would young Hungarian rock musicians bring to the table if drawing freely from their own unique musical legacy? Part of the answers are contained on this collaborative effort between two Hungarian virtuosos Messrs Daczi and Angyan. The former a funk infected jazzer while the latter that of a classically trained legato shredder and violinist.

Caravan - clanking funk guitar riff a la Stevie Ray Vaughan covering Aerosmith under which the chords move provided by Gabor Kovacs's alternately contrary/assuaging electric piano. The guitar screams rawk but the vocabulary is gypsy peasant music as transcribed and catalogued by the likes of Bartok and Kodaly during their extensive field trips to the farthest flung corners of rural eastern europe. Despite the tiresome testosterone conceits of pinched harmonics and whammy bar histrionics, I guess that even the most beautiful poetry is resilient enough to survive being couched in this drawling American twang. The sort of motoring soundtrack that even someone as repugnant as Jeremy Clarkson might be cajoled into spinning in his Maserati.

Carpathia - The solo violin ostinato reeks of Janacek, Bartok et al as tackled by David Cross and my fears that the album would lapse into a 6 string shredfest are well wide of the mark. Sublime main theme stated by plaintive and haunting violin sets the mood for a very eclectic development. The combination of riffing guitar and violin is an oft underexploited texture and apart from Curved Air, the Velvets, Mahavishnu and the aforementioned Crimson, there ain't too many bands have raised well adjusted offspring from such a rocky marriage. I think they even quote from Floyd on the quiet section via a ghostly and spectral guitar arpeggio? What follows is vaguely similar to Noonward Race albeit with a stripped back rhythm section. Towards the close the 'village wedding' fiddle returns together with the lyrical main theme and dropping out the band here while leaving just the naked violin is beautifully realised.

War- First impressions are that this is a rehash of the opening track where the repeating riff is left unchanged and the harmonies orbit around it. However to be fair, the developmental section is inspired with some Ponty/Goodman dervish fiddling with scales and modes sourced from Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary. They also appear to have allowed my Uncle Peter to sit in on his faulty Bontempi organ on the session as the 'only just' intonated strains of 'The Old Rugged Cross' which were such a source of glee at Lemming family gatherings, are captured faithfully deep in the bowels of the mix. Mr Kovacs obviously has a healthy sense of humour (unlike my Uncle Peter) Those familiar with the PIL album Happy? will recognise some of that feel here during the more overtly heavy rock sections.

Friends - Django Reinhardt playing the soundtrack for a silent movie comedy featuring the Budapest division of the Keystone Cops anyone?. Appel Indirect is not a million miles away from this (check out that track for a prescient glimpse into prog circa 1939 - like Fripp vamping in a cummerbund) There is a jesting and playful wit in abundance on Friends and the relative lightness of the acoustic textures makes for an effective contrast to the prevalent heaviness elsewhere. The pan flute passage from Denes Makrovics is remarkably good, given that the heinously irritating Zamfir chap has almost single handedly destroyed whatever credibility this instrument might ever have possessed before his facile exploitation of their esoteric charms. Ample evidence for the considerable variety this record contains.

Dance - Anyone who has heard Anima Sound System's magnificent We Strike! album might just nod their sanguine heads in approval at this point. Eastern European folk modes collide with funky beats and although the subtle complexities of the indigenous elements are shoehorned unceremoniously into the cramped cyclic units of rawk (Macedonian children sing their skipping rhymes in 22/16 effortlessly) this is a track that develops very imaginatively. There are some exhilarating but smooth detours with revisits to the thrilling main theme at regular intervals as reward for our attentions. Dance threatens to mutate into a Sabbath style doom ending but inexplicably gets cold feet and exits very quickly and rather clumsily.

Smile - This could be any old indie rock until the main theme kicks in over the top of fingerpicked electric guitar and four square drums. The effect is further undermined by some slinky and clearly tongue in cheek lounge piano. Sadly however the tune can't make up it's mind whether to go for 'cheese supreme' or 'grunge antipasto' and fades rather sheepishly into silence in front of an increasingly impatient waiter.

Meridian - Contains what passes for what is the only unadulterated jazz fusion so far on the album: a more hirsute and badly dressed Wes Montgomery tackling Gazeuse era Gong with Alan Holdsworth lending a hand. Once again the rapid violin phrases conjure up Mahavishnu but shorn of Cobham's sublime drumming interplay. Thereafter we build up a bouffant head of Malmsteem into some neo classical widdly etude but order is restored courtesy of a sumptuous electric piano excursion to heal our earshot wounds.

Fusion - Dixie Dregs guitar wedded to some 'Jean Luc Ponty plays the music of Nero' in a lovely double time groove. A memorable lyrical solo utilising Montgomery octaves lends a jazzy flavour but the gypsy spices have by this point largely disappeared leaving just plain vanilla fusion in their wake. Another lovely Fender Rhodes solo mollifies our loss but why does fusion restricted to just the major and minor modes have to be this banal and unfailingly polite?

Something For You - Dial up that 'Bottom of an Olympic Swimming Pool' preset on your digital reverb unit and noodle away at a slug's funeral march tempo on acoustic guitar for a couple of minutes and hey largo, the album is completed with the minimum of fuss or effort.

If you like heavy rock and eastern European folk music you will be dribbling like a butcher's dog when you hear this. Please be warned though that the source inspiration has been cropped, air-brushed and simplified to lend this material it's surface attractiveness. I must praise the drum sound achieved here which manages to retain an acoustic naturalness and hefty punch without recourse to excessive compression. (All too rare in Heavy Rock) Bertalan Hirlemann is a very robust player who clearly relishes the opportunity to lay down a driving groove beneath the rockier tunes. Both he and Tamas Zsoldos on bass, do however betray their limitations during the more complex metrical changes where you sense they 'count' rather than 'feel' the way ahead. That said, this is a good album with laudable intentions and if Carpathia Project acts as a portal for the receptive and inquisitive listener to explore further the likes of Bartok, Kodaly, Janacek, Dvorak and Smetana the whole enterprise will have been very worthwhile.

ExittheLemming | 3/5 |


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