Boris Kovac
& Ladaaba Orchest,
Ballads at the End of Time:
La Danza Apocalypsa Balcanica #2

(Piranha, 2003)

This is one of the best albums I've heard this year. Boris Kovac is a multi-talented Serbian artist. He has been appalled and discouraged by the terrible conflicts among the factions fighting for dominance of the territories of the former Yugoslavia. Ballads at the End of Time is the second of two releases that are reactions specifically to NATO's bombing of Novi Sad while he was living near that city. The first release was The Last Balkan Tango: An Apocalyptic Dance Party.

It may have been a reaction to the brutalities of war, but you'd never guess it from the music itself. "What should we do the night before the end of the world? Let's dance and try to be happy one more time," Kovac says, and the music is more upbeat than not.

This second and final release in the set still avoids feelings of terror or deep sadness, but does have a larger dose of the ironically bittersweet. It's about the day after the apocalypse and the nervous surprise at having survived. Kovac has been influenced by so many of Nova Sad's numerous ethnic groups that it's impossible to pigeonhole him. He makes effective use of many dance forms from waltz to cha cha. Apparent style influences include Argentine tango, German cabaret, Hungarian gypsy and klezmer. None of this should be taken as a sign of superficiality or confusion. Kovac and crew are talented musicians who just happen to have more tools than most. They know exactly what they are doing and the result is enormously appealing.

The core group is a sextet. Kovac plays sax. Others add clarinet, accordion, double bass, drums and guitar. Occasionally additional musicians appear, including a violinist. Most of the music was written by Kovac and, in spite of the diverse influences and potentially depressing subject, it features strongly profiled, catchy melodies that would often work in more standard pop settings.

In keeping with the after-the-apocalypse theme, howling dogs are heard briefly on a couple of cuts. Before I read the notes, I thought it was a humorous touch that didn't quite work. After, I realized howls fit the album concept. The music itself however is so far from apocalyptic, I still think the sounds are incongruous. Fortunately they are also brief and the initial canine appearance doesn't keep the first track from being one of my favorites. It starts in klezmer style and eventually segues into a sort of Jewish-sounding fandango. It's an unusual and felicitous mix and that could be said of every other track on the album. Highly recommended.

- Rambles
written by Ron Bierman
published 3 January 2004

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