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Vermicelli Orchestra (Russia) - 1999 - "Byzantium"
(42 min, "Boheme Music")

*****

Tracklist:

A Dancing Sphinx  6:28
Byzantium  6:02
Shantolina 5:25
Sea Wind  5:46
Marta  5:02
Sacateca  4:39
Okarina  3:47
Forilien  4:06

Line-up: Sergey Schurakov - accordion; Mikhail Ivanov - bass; Vitaliy Semenov - drums; Nail Kadirov - guitars; Oleg "O'Shar" Shavkunov - percussion, tambourine, chimes; Maria Schurakova - mandolin

Guest Musicians: Natalie Setchkareva - flute (2,5,7); Nicholas Mokhov - flute (1,3,4,6,8); Basil Popov - cello (1 - 6, 8); Alexis Silyutin - fagot (3,8); Vsevolod Gakkel - violin (7)

All music written and arranged by S.Shurakov. Additional arrangements by M.Ivanov.

Sound producer: Alexander Dokshin. Assisted by S.Shurakov. Produced by Andrew Feofanov.

The Album. With a review of the "Byzantium" album of Vermicelli Orchestra (they had another CD before) I start a series of reviews of Bohema's bands, that work actively now. Sadly, I haven't heard the first disk of this remarkable band of five guys and one girl. However, by the start of a process without which their second brain-child wouldn't have seen the light of day, they were joined by another three men and one more girl, who had left their signatures in the guest book. The oldtimer Vsevolod Gakkel shouldn't be taken into account, I think, as his world-renowned fiddle stick only took part in one insignificant episode. On the CD back sleeve the style of VO is presented as a cross between jazz and creative music. If this definition doesn't make sense at all, then we don't have jazz as such here. Quality-wise, all eight instrumental cuts on the album are in fact equally worth. However, want it or not, the first track, (like it happens often with openers?), is a bit simpler and arguably more a hit than the others. Interestingly, it represents thematically the "Dancing Sphynx". Perhaps it was called so by some analogy with the Dancing Buddha, but even the Dance of Buddha, realizing in his material incarnation all the contrasts of a dual material world to a similar degree shouldn't sound as almost exclusively upbeat as The Dancing Sphynx does. That phylosophycally dark and impassionate Guard of the Sepulchre of Pharaos and Pyramids is hard to imagine even leaving his eternal watch and less so breaking suddenly into a free-rolling dance at harmonica and all that (nowhere else does the accordeon of the band's leader Serguey Shurakov sound as daring and opulent as in the opener). The poor Sphynx doesn'have anything to do with the Byzantium Empire, much less to its part where now the Ukraine lies, so, despite an obvious compositional, stylistic and mood unity of the musical line of the pieces, this album isn't even pseudo-conceptual (truly conceptual are only albums with lyrics on a specific theme from start to end). Although, does it really matter when the album is so good? I'd better leave this rubbish in peace, including the irrelevant title for the first composition (still, some people may be left surprised with it too), and stick from now on only to the music. After all, musicwise the album of the descendants of the Byzantinians (but with Roman Italian cuisine inclinations) is at large exceptionally interesting. Rich in instrumentation, where along with the traditional in rock music quartet set we have beautiful and surprisingly diverse sounds of flute, fiddle, accordeon and mandolin (even fagot on two tracks), the "Byzantium" of Vermicelli Orchestra abounds in magnificent, endless within the 42 minutes arrangements. A most interesting leisure is to follow in streams of great music flowing from the band's play virtuosic, fine, masterful solos of all members and guests. Full of life, the band's music emanates light and warmth. And while it's not difficult to catch the melodic base of each composition, to comprehend this music entirely and at once, getting into numerous shades, isn't an easy thing to do even for an experienced listener of modern Symphonic Classic Art Rock, a genre Byzantium fits almost totally into, including those passages that remind to some at first improvisations, while some folk structures fit easily into the said definition, being one of the roots of the same tree. The largely positive mood of Byzantium, with a depressive flair always dominating in Progressive, one of its spiritual cornerstones, gives the album a touch of originality. However, from another, more significant viewpoint, first of all just musically, VO's creation is seen definitely unusual and very original. Even the stylistics of Byzantium belongs completely to the Slavic school, I would say, which we'll revisit along with Bohema, and I haven't heard anything close to it in the West. Back to some problems with labelling the styles on the 'backsides' of the CD booklets, a lot is explained by the fact that only one person, Andrey Rubin, works permanently from Boheme in the Chech Republic, who pulls out all the production there, apart from listening, contacts, contracts, keeping correspondence and so on.

VM. March 12, 2001


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