Just back from Berlin, where I was checking out the city’s annual jazz fest. Saw lots of disparate stuff, from Frank Gratkowski’s fine Doppel-Quartett—with Wolter Wierbos, Paul Lovens, Herb Robertson, Tobias Delius, Gerry Hemingway, Wilbert de Joode, and Dieter Manderscheid—to a superb Turkish quartet called Mozaik that elaborated on traditional court and Sufi music with an improvisational style not beholden to but compatible with those disciplines. But the biggest blast was provided by the Norwegian quintet Farmers Market, led by Stian Carstensen. The group, which features Supersilent drummer Jarle Vespestad and Bulgarian saxophonist Trifon Trifonov--who's got his own new album, although I haven't heard it yet--plays an unexpectedly strong and vital strain of Bulgarian wedding music a la Ivo Papasov, who's currently rocking the US with old pal Yuri Yunakov (Friday night, 11/11, in Chicago at the OTS). They don’t simply mimic or create campy pastiches, but dig right into the stuff. In particular, Vespestad has not only mastered the complex time signatures, but has a found a unique spin on the tradition with his creatively hyper fills and accents. Carstensen, who plays accordion, guitar, pedal steel, and kaval, among other instruments, has made annual trips to Bulgaria to steep himself in the music since discovering Papasov in the early 90s. Although the group has never played in Bulgaria, Carstensen has played loads of private weddings on his various sojourns there, and seems to have been accepted as a brother-in-arms.
The band’s gig in Berlin also included some bizarre digressions into Americana as well as an absurdist medley that makes Zorn’s Naked City sound lethargic, but it was the Bulgarian stuff that provided the most satisfying bulk of the concert. The group recently signed a deal with Ipecac and is at work on a new release for next year. In the meantime, here’s a track from the most recent album from 2000.