Outhentic is a Bulgarian ethno-jazz group, who bring their native folk and traditional flavours to modern jazz, funk, pop, etc. and vice versa. The core of the group are siblings, kaval player Zhivko Vasilev and singer Rayna Vasileva. Transparent is their self-released second album following their debut from 2016, which is titled “YesToday”. Yes, they do enjoy a bit of word play!
The kaval (a type of flute) melody line accompanied by other folk instruments introduces the album and the first track, the lively “Ayda, Ayda”. Vasileva’s voice is sweet, precise and pure, but apparently without too much power. As the song develops, the sparkly keyboards are joined by restrained bass and drums. “Transparent” is the sparse piano introduction to the slower paced “Yaz Ti Postilam” of which although it has traditional elements, the instrumental accompaniment is familiar with electric guitar, a standard rhythm section including electric bass and smooth solos from kaval and acoustic guitar. “Zalibih Si Edno Libe” is more uptempo, particularly during the non-vocal passages. The structure of tune is more conventional to western ears. “Razoral Dedo” kicks off with an electric guitar riff and then springs into an uptempo funky style shuffle. The verses drop out and it’s the opportunity for the band members to show their chops. The solos are proficient and pleasing.
The pace changes for “Chereshko Chorna”. Kaval and gentle Spanish guitar introduce the ballad. Rayna Vasileva’s singing is especially beautiful on this track and exhibits impressive control and constraint. It’s the highpoint of the album. “Yunache Ludo” continues the melancholic mood of the previous track but with a slightly bluesy feel. “Doydi, Doydi, Libe Le” is probably the most successful fusion of folk and jazz. It’s where the fit is most snug between traditional instruments and electric jazz phrasings and syncopation. “Stiga Mi Sa, Momne Le – Ti Rechi, Momne Le” stays close to their template of giving an edge to the traditional song using offbeats and jazzy fills.“Rachenitsa” is a kaval-led instrumental and for much of the track, is structured and quite rigid. That is, until about mid-way through, when there’s a bracing manic section and now it feels like the gloves have come off! Unfortunately, it doesn’t continue into the final track, “Rano E Moma”, which is rather prosaic. A generic funk/disco work-out.
Transparent is an enjoyable album without hints of dryness sometimes apparent in music tied to a concept such as this. It is embellished by good musicianship and a distinct cohesiveness within the group. Although sometimes the arrangements are a little tentative and derivative, the album is successful, allowing a listener with no specific knowledge of Bulgaria to sample and appreciate some of her culture and folklore within a familiar musical scenario. Although I would expect that there’s not much of interest here for the world music purist (whoever they are!), art like this is a reminder that you can still retain an internationalist outlook whilst preserving and nurturing your roots.