Beyond the Pale,
Consensus: Live in Concert
(Borealis, 2004)

Toronto ensemble Beyond the Pale has won accolades around the world for its infectious blend of Old European folk music (klezmer, Balkan, Gypsy, Romanian), contemporary North American roots music, jazz and blues. From the group's beginnings, audience consensus has been positive. Beyond the Pale brings "old music" to the people in original compositions and fresh arrangements that feature dazzling musicianship, vivacious creativity and boundless energy.

Consensus was recorded in 2004 before an enthusiastic live audience at Toronto's Al Green Theatre. In the liner notes, the band observes "the live environment always injects added spice and energy into our music ... so why not try to capture some of that energy on tape." The instinct was a good one. Consensus feels like a party. The musicians are clearly responsive to the audience (though no doubt they're equally outstanding in studio).

Beyond the Pale consists of Bogdan Djukic on violin and percussion, Bret Higgins on bass, Milos Popovic on accordion, Eric Stein on mandolin/mandocello and Martin Van De Ven on clarinet and bass clarinet. Guest appearances are made by Josh Dolgin on vocals and piano and Yeva Medvedyuk on vocals. Together, they are a tribute to collaboration itself, as their individual artistic backgrounds intermingle to create a delicious musical stew. Veteran producer Danny Greenspoon (with assistant engineer Jeremy Darby) does a fine job of capturing the live performances and the project was mixed and mastered at Toronto's Reaction Studios.

Consensus is a delightfully accessible recording, especially given the sophistication and intricacy of the compositions. Also, the band offers informative liner notes that explain the origins and evolution of the music to novice listeners like myself. "Calusari Dance" is explained this way: "This is a well-known Romanian dance tune that never fails to rouse an audience. Our arrangement borrows elements from many archival recordings ... mixed with our own perhaps bluegrass-inflected sensibilities." Very helpful. Or about "Bulcharescu" (by Eric Stein): "The slinky 6/4 section poses a contest to see which member of the band can produce more spooky and/or bizarre noises on his instrument." Tricky time signatures are explained. Diverse musical influences are revealed.

In the music and the liner notes, there's an inclusiveness here, a warm welcoming-in, an invitation to be part of a joyful club. That's what makes Consensus -- and Beyond the Pale itself -- so special. You can't listen to this album without feeling enriched, respected and entertained, no matter what your cultural heritage.

by Joy McKay
19 November 2005

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