|The good Professor deftly led the dance, boa flung heavenwards with her one free hand, oblivious to the bystander catching a mouthful of feathers in her wake. Professor Irene Markoff had come to play the opening set with the York University Balkan Ensemble, and stayed to enjoy the Bulgarian Gypsy fusion stylings of Lubo & Kaba Horo. Led by Lubo Alexandrov, the band riled up a multi-generational crowd with their arrangements of traditional wedding dances, as well as Kaba Horo originals on a distinctly rock-leaning instrumentation of electric guitar, electric bass, drums, alto saxophone and accordion.
High-energy from the downbeat, Kaba Horo started their set with a string of originals, which turned out to be the most challenging and complex music of the evening. With the energetic 2-2-3-2 phrasing of Bulgarian and Trans-roman traditional sounds, and tempos up in the stratosphere, dancers who werent resigned to missing most of the beats did well to follow the lead of those in the know; the Professor was but one of a healthy contingent of Balkan ex-pats showing the young whipper-snappers how its done. Lubo certainly shone in his solos on electric guitar, constructing lines both intricate and cantabile, perfectly at home in the twisted modes of the idiom. The excellent rhythm section comprised of Martin Auguste (kit) and Georgi Stankov (bass) allowed the melodies to groove on the particular emphases they liked; but the melding of the guitar and saxophone timbre left the beautiful tone of Eric Hove on sax all but subsumed, outside his solos.
The switch into traditional tunes drove the energy level up to wedding-night-bash levels. No one was contemplating the time signatures any more. The funk infusions gave the younger dancers something to sink their hips into, as stately Turkish/Croatian tunes made an appearance, only to accelerate beyond all recognition. An appearance by singer Brenda MacCrimmon was a welcome addition. Her mastery of the heavily ornamented Bulgarian and Turkish musical vocabulary was utterly apparent, allowing her to have an expressive interaction with the audience and a relaxed good time.
Lubo & Kaba Horo are impressively adept at playing music that ranges from academically intriguing to old school dance party. Their enthusiasm for the study of traditional sound shows up in their ability to exploit it in original and cheeky variations, and Small World Music society certainly connected them with an audience who enthused right back.