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Eldad Tarmu: Songs for the Queen of Bohemia

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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In January 2009, Los Angeles-born, Romanian vibraphonist, Eldad Tarmu took his Chamber Jazz Ensemble, featuring Israeli drummer Yoni Halevy and the Timisoara String Quartet, on tour with a superb new symphonic poem, Songs for the Queen of Bohemia. It has been on record almost since then, but sadly has not received the attention it deserves. Admittedly the world of music is becoming a crowded place, but this music deserves to be taken much more seriously.

The music on Songs for the Queen of Bohemia is a sweeping narrative, infused with the sounds of the Middle East, the music of the Czech and Romania's Roma people and, therefore, unfortunately attributed to what is mistakenly simply described as "Eastern Europe." This is a serious mistake, as it does not begin to describe just how rich and diverse the music of these two cultures really is. Add to that Tarmu has, by naming his suite so, pointed in the direction where the music is at its richest: in the universe of the Roma people and their culture.

Tarmu's wonderful compositions have the charm and odd meters of Middle Eastern music, especially at the expert hand of percussionist Halevy, who himself has added to the rich rhythms of the music of his country by seeing it not as a political entity, but as a rich homogenous geography. Similarly the String Quartet presents not simply the sounds of Romania, or of classical music, but because Tarmu's work has dictated, the Romani World.

This is a suite in ten parts that tells the story of a Queen who is swept off her feet by a dazzling foreigner and becomes so besotted by him that she abdicates her throne and flees with him, away from Bohemia—which is, in the present day, the Czech Republic. The music has an otherworldly charm, as most Romani music does. It is narrative, and does not really fit any Western musical thought; rather, it combines the melodic richness of Persia and India with numerous melodic modes from the folk music of Romania—including cântec batrânesc (epic ballads, literally "songs of the elders"), the music of ancient Byzantium.

Tarmu is well-versed in this music, and his bell-like intonation is derived from the sweeping vistas of traditional doina, the Romanian "folk blues" that echoes with bocet (lament) and când ciobanu si-a pierdut oile (when the shepherd has lost the sheep)—a lament more earthy and wailing that almost drips like tear-drops from wet eyes. This is especially useful in his offsetting the sense of beautiful longing with the tension and ultimate joy of the last two parts of this symphonic poem, "Escape with the Queen of Bohemia" and the largely solo vibraphone, "Song for the Queen of Bohemia."

The string quartet also interprets the music expertly, sounding as classical as it does like a traditional taraf (traditional Roma ensemble) throughout, and joining Tarmu, Bota and Halevy in making this a truly memorable record.

Track Listing: The Invasion Song; Seducing the Queen of Bohemia; Headed East; The Polish Gentleman; Dionysus; Drinking with the Queen of Bohemia; Dancing for the Queen of Bohemia; Battle for the Queen of Bohemia; Escape with the Queen of Bohemia; Song for the Queen of Bohemia.

Personnel: Eldad Tarmu: vibraphone; Yoni Halevy: drums; Stephan "Pisti" Colompar: violin; Catalina Costin: violin: Cristian Hateg-Turcus: viola; Diana Butaru: cello; Johnny Bota: bass.

Title: Songs for the Queen of Bohemia | Year Released: 2009 | Record Label: Queen of Bohemia Productions

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