Of Lovers, Gamblers and Parachute Skirts Taraf de Haidouks Crammed/Planet
Belying their background, a band of hedonistic Roma village musicians from the Romanian countryside, championed by the unlikely combination of a buccaneering actor, Belgian record promoters and a scenestealing cameo in a music doco ( Latcho Drom), have established themselves not only as the undisputed gypsy kings of eastern Europe but also as one of the world’s great musical acts. Taraf de Haidouks’s appeal has been perfectly summed up by Johnny Depp: “They’re authentic musicians making authentic music … they have the gift to make you feel alive.” Of Lovers, Gamblers And Parachute Skirts epitomises the irresistible joie de vivre and uninhibited virtuosity of an ensemble born in the dying days of the Ceausescu dictatorship. Haidouks’s 25th anniversary album, in which they revisit their roots following the death of three foundation singers, bears out the authenticity Depp mentions. Emotive Wallachian ballads and gypsy love songs are interspersed with frenetic traditional dance medleys and Turkish-tinted instrumentals in a landmark release that reunites the band with a handful of former collaborators and their progeny. The diva Viorica Rudareasa lends her distinctive chops to four pieces, including the opening cut and the sassy title track. A son of one of Haidouks’s departed greats sings an antique ballad in which one of the band’s four core fiddle players genuflects to another revered Taraf figure, a violinist who pioneered a style of playing that involves pulling a horsehair rather than a bow across the lower string, to produce a guttural and otherworldly sound. Familial continuity is further emphasised by the fact that the fiddle innovator’s son sings lead on another heartbreaking ballad in a style that’s eerily reminiscent of his father. If the slower numbers draw out the best from the band’s past and present vocalists, the instrumentalists excel with their collective feet flat to the floor. Whatever the tempo, Taraf de Haidouks play with the precision of top-flight classical musicians blended with the unbridled passion and casual panache for which Balkan gypsies are renowned. While the resident flautist and clarinetist (the former playing a six-hole reed flute that sounds like a Celtic whistle) spit out flurries of high-register notes at a scarcely credible rate of knots, the band’s high-velocity violin players — individually, in unison or in harmony — soar like eagles and swoop like seagulls. Assisting the combined fiddles to create a veritable rhythmic whirlwind are a pair of hard-driven accordions, a furiously hammered cymbalum (dulcimer) and florid double bass walking lines. Indeed, there’s a veritable cornucopia of sound to captivate the senses in Taraf de Haidouks’s multilayered gypsy folk and jazz arrangements and complex harmonic structures. Of Lovers, Gamblers And Parachute Skirts ranks as the world music roller-coaster ride of the year.