Sviraj’s Balkan Jam I

cassette cover artBalkan Jam I is the first recording put out by the Pennsylvania-based trio Sviraj (pronounced Svee-rye with a rolled “r). On the heels of the critical success of its 2000 release, Ciganine the group has re-released its back-catalog. Balkan Jam I was released on cassette only in 1993 (that’s the original cover art at left); this its first release on CD.

The 15 tracks on Balkan Jam I are full of the kind of passionate performances cited by GMR’s Naomi de Bruyn in her review of Ciganine. This disc came to me without anything in the way of documentation, so I’m relying on my ear, but it seems to draw on much the same sources, particularly Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Dalmatia, Romania, Hungary and the Roma. It also includes a cover of Dick Dale’s surf classic, “Miserlou,” sung in some Balkan tongue, with Spanish-style guitar and Balkan-style three-part harmonies. Dudes!

“Evo Banke” shows some Hungarian Jewish influence, starting slow and building in tempo like classic klezmer music. “Stevanovo Kolo” is only one of many tracks showing off Raczar Lopatic’s prowess on the violin; this one’s a fast 2/4 whirl of an instrumental dance number. The opening track, “Gajde,” I would swear has some Bob Wills influence in the fiddle licks. And “Jovano, Jovanke” has a strong Romanian feel with the droning of the bowed bass by Lenny Tepsich. Danilo Yanich turns in strong rhythmic work on the guitar and bugarija — and possibly some bouzouki — on every track.

Technically, the recording isn’t without its flaws. It sounds as though it were recorded in front of one microphone, so except for the vocals, much of the music is indistinct. And at times it’s obvious that we’re listening to a band that’s not yet entirely at home in the studio. Sometimes the bass and guitar aren’t quite together when they should be, and the beat gets lost in the shuffle occasionally.

Still, fans of Sviraj should enjoy having this early work available in this format.

(Omnium, 1993/2001)

Gary Whitehouse

Gary has been reviewing music, books and more at the Green Man Review since sometime in the previous Millennium. He lives in a mostly hipster-free part of Oregon, where he enjoys dogs, books, music, the outdoors, and craft beer, cider, and coffee.

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