It's hard to believe that music can be so compelling that, even if only heard in passing, it's still so absolutely memorable. Catching just the first few minutes of Farmers Market at Natt Jazz 2011, thanks to an ungodly airport pickup time the following morning, left such an impression that when the first notes of the opening title track to Slav to the Rhythm hit the speakers nearly a year later, it was immediately clear that this was the same piece with which this remarkable Norwegian/Bulgarian hybrid opened its show. The record features, in addition to the core touring quintet, a cast of 14 additional guests, and main mastermind/multi-instrumentalist Stian Carstensen performs on no less than 22 instruments. Live, however, the significantly pared-down instrumentation of the five-piece Farmers Market meant that, for example, a brief interlude in the song was covered by Carstensen on accordion rather than organ, lending it an entirely different complexion.
Here, on record, however, without such self-imposed and practical instrumental limitations, Carstensen's gritty Hammond organ signals a paradigm shift from the song's majestic overture into a testosterone-filled fusion workout, where guitarist Nils-Olav Johansen and Carstensen, also now on guitar, tear it up, early John McLaughlin
-stylebut only after a surprisingly singable, irregularly metered melody from Bulgarian saxophonist Trifon Trifonov, bolstered by bassist Finn Guttormsen and drummer Jarle Vespestad. Farmers Market has never sounded this muscular, and yet there's none of fusion's occasional excesses, because the group never stays in one place long enough for that to happen. Instead, on this one, seven-minute title track, there's more compositional activity than most bands write into an entire album; more than just episodic, Slav to the Rhythmthe album and the songcovers so much stylistic and cultural territory, that it's almost impossible to keep up. And yet, somehow, it never makes anything less than complete sense.
Who, after all, would use the music of classical composer György Ligeti as the foundation for a tune that rocks this hard, or combine searing electric guitars with the Bulgarian bowed gadulka, pedal steel guitar, ocarina, kaval (Bulgarian chromatic flute), clavinet and music box?
Clearly Carstensen would. The creative foundation for Farmers Marketand the only person to appear, in some form, on all of Slav to the Rhythm's eleven tracksCarstensen's absurd sense of humor, staggering instrumental virtuosity and downright frightening compositional acumen make him the worthy torch-bearer for the late Lars Hollmer
and the Swedish multi-instrumentalist's flagship 1970s band, Samla Mammas Mannathough as memorable as that group was, it never achieved the nearly unprecedented multidisciplinary breadth of Farmers Market.
There are trace elements of surf music, Middle Eastern tonalities, Macedonian traditionalism (thanks to clarinetist Filip Simeonov, who appears on nearly half the record), traces of progressive rock and much, much more across the album's 53 minutes, and no shortage of beauty either, as on the gadulka/harp intro to "It's Not Always True." But it's the core of Farmers Market that drives and defines Slav to the Rhythm, in particular Guttormsen (who is turning into a serious threat on electric bass) and Vespestad, a drummer who may barely breathe on his skins when performing with Zen pianist Tord Gustavsen
, but is as muscular and downright thundering as he needs to be throughout this record.
And, despite all the shifts in tempo, time and texture, Farmers Market grooves, making Slav to the Rhythmits first record since 2008's Surfin USSR (Ipecac) and fifth since 1995's Speed/Balkan/Boogie (Kirkelig Kulturverksted)an album that resonates on so many levels it's virtually impossible to keep count. Thrilling, exhilarating, funny, poignant and effortlessly deep, with expansive cinematics one moment, polka-esque accordion another and ferocious guitar interplay the next, Slav to the Rhythm is hands-down Farmers Market's best album to date, and absolutely one of this year's best and most eclectic recordsall without losing focus, vision, ora year after hearing but a few minutes of this then-new musicinstant recognition.
Tracks: Slav to the Rhythm; You're the Prototypical; Friend; Dusty Traditions; Replace; Shiny Happy Gizmos; Old Stuff Still Does the Trick; It's Not Always True; Machines Rule; And Thus; Man is Ancient History.
Track Listing: Slav to the Rhythm; You're the Prototypical; Friend; Dusty Traditions; Replace; Shiny Happy Gizmos; Old Stuff Still Does the Trick; It's Not Always True; Machines Rule; And Thus; Man is Ancient History.