Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Fanfare Ciocarlia

  • Gili Garabdi [Asphalt Tango, 2005]  
  • Queens and Kings [Asphalt Tango, 2007] A
  • 20 [Asphalt Tango, 2016] A-
  • It Wasn't Hard to Love You [Asphalt Tango, 2021] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Gili Garabdi [Asphalt Tango, 2005]
As professional a wedding band as you'll ever hear, including the James Bond theme and a couple of horas ("Godzilla," "Moldavian Mood")  

Queens and Kings [Asphalt Tango, 2007]
A Gypsy brass band created by a German record man in a Romanian village, the hectically virtuosic, unabashedly ambitious Ciocarlia have always been a little too fast and furious on record. But they're the glue of the inspired tour doc Gypsy Caravan, and this all-star CD fuses the film's ecumenicism with their lust for fame. Based on a Bucharest memorial concert for Ciocarlia's clarinetist leader, it varies their nonstop attack with singers from all over the borderless Roma community. Foremost are icons Esma Redzepova and Saban Bajramovic, whose two songs apiece could send a person surfing after Songs of a Macedonian Gypsy and A Gypsy Legend, respectively. But from godfather Dan Armeanca, whose "Kan Marau La (I Will Beat Her)" is recommended to gangsta scholars, to the climactic "Born to Be Wild," composer credit to Mars, Bonfire, this is as impressive a tour of Gypsy pop as any German record man (or woman) could hope. Special respect to guest trumpeter Pancirel Constandache, a refugee from Ciocarlia's tour grind, and either Mitsou or Florentina Sandu for the midget vocal on "Duj Duj," though the other lady is peachy too. A

20 [Asphalt Tango, 2016]
Like the Markovics' Serbian orkestar, this Romanian Gypsy horn band poses a discographical dilemma for gadje casuals--just how much of this high-energy stuff do committed eclectics need? That's why the Markovic catalog has always driven your faithful marginal differentiator crazy. But though said differentiator has never heard a Ciocarlia album he didn't like, including 2016's Onward to Mars with the zippy "Crayfish Hora" opener you won't find here, he believes you can make do with two: the guest-studded live 2007 memorial concert Queens & Kings, and this vinyl-and-download-only double album, which cherrypicks a catalog they were accruing long before vinyl fetishism became a thing. Trad though they are, they began recording well into the CD era in 1996. Gili Garabdi owners should be aware that that 2005 breakthrough provides seven of its 26 tracks, but what can you do? None of them are 20's most audacious moments, which Balkanize two American classics that suddenly take on equal weight: "Summertime" and "I Put a Spell on You." A-

It Wasn't Hard to Love You [Asphalt Tango, 2021]
Initially convened a few hundred miles from Kyiv in the eastern hills of Romania near the Moldavan border, this highly professional Belgian-backed Romani horn band leads its first album since 2016 with a Bill Withers cover and fills it out with quite a few compositions by Tel Aviv-trained, U.K.-based session pro Koby Israelite. How exactly any of these facts pertain to the horrors of Ukraine with its shockingly courageous comedian-turned-president who in 2006 won a Dancing With the Stars competition I couldn't further specify at this time. But it does. Having gradually warmed to it since its September release, I was nonetheless startled to find how bracing and relevant the blaring, proactive fanfares of "Cruzzzando El Campooo" and "Pannonicated Polka" felt at this moment. May they remain unalloyed, untragic forces for good between the Wednesday when I'm writing this and the Wednesday when you get to read it. A-

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