Evritiki Zygia ‘Ormenion’ LP/CD (Teranga Beat) 4/5

Modern Thrace straddles Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey. Ormenion, after which this album is named, is the northern-most region in Greece. Next train stop is Bulgaria though it’s actually the meeting point of all three nations and as such, has been the focal point of migration and cultural exchange. This exchange appears to be the theme of this outstanding release.

Evritiki Zygia is a five piece folk group, formed with a mission to preserve musical traditions from the region, mainly performing local festivals and other occasions. Their main traditional instruments of kaval (a type of flute), lyre, bagpipe and davul (drum) are augmented by retro electronic keys and effects.

And keys introduce the album opener, “Fog”, then gently accompanied by kaval and the others. A theme is soon established and it’s all very pleasant but not surprising. However, after a couple of minutes, the intensity is ramped up as deep fuzzy electronic bass and percussion is pushed to the front of the mix; low feedbacky sounds duel with frantic kaval. It’s immediately clear that preserving musical traditions doesn’t preclude exciting experimentation.

Bagpipes introduce the tune for “Maritsa”, the Bulgarian name for the river Evros, emphasising how their culture transcends borders. Later as the percussion pounds out the rhythm, improvised parts and individual solos merge with electronic effects.

The sleeve notes inform me that “5 nights” is a traditional love song but the brief percussive introduction is actually vaguely reminiscent of electronica pioneers, Suicide. The electronic bass is persistent throughout the track which is not what you’d necessarily expect but I feel it highlights rather than detracts from the traditional instruments (especially lyre and kaval here) and voice.

Another traditional, “Karsilamas” is smoother as the some of harsh electronic sounds are reined in. Although the earlier tracks are enjoyable and exciting, it’s also pleasing to hear more subtle sonic textures. The mournful sound of the bagpipe takes the lead for “Ormenion”. The percussion kicks off the rest of the band and each take an uptempo solo.

An ancient ritual is invoked for “Anastenariko (Firewalking Dance)” with the frenzied bowing of the lyre, the insistent drum, the repetitive vocal and the space-rock-like electronic swirling. The closer, “The Sun is Setting”, is a joyous and energetic wall of sound as the rhythms and melodies weave and jostle.

This is not music for reflection and quiet contemplation, it’s dynamic, zestful and celebratory. This is an album of paradoxes. It preserves traditional music and instrumentation but is also progressive and open. It is tied to the land it comes from but accepts and welcomes influences from outside. This is essential to its success (and it is successful!), the music feels vibrant and modern while retaining the primal essence of the culture. Rooted to the past but not restrained by it.

Kevin Ward