Yuri Yunakov Ensemble With Ivo Papsaov | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Yuri Yunakov Ensemble With Ivo Papsaov 

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Fed up with the disrespectful treatment accorded to Rom music and musicians in his homeland, the superb Bulgarian saxophonist Yuri Yunakov moved to New York in 1994. He's remained a leading exponent of Rom wedding music--a high-speed, odd-metered style infused with the energy of rock and the instrumental fluidity of jazz. During the communist era and for some years after the revolution of 1989, the Bulgarian government tried to suppress it as part of a campaign to cleanse the culture of Rom influences. The ban drove Rom musicians underground, and for years the style could only be heard at private functions--like weddings. In the mid-80's, Yunakov joined Trakiya, the wedding band led by master clarinetist Ivo Papasov. The two recordings the group made in the U.S.--Orpheus Ascending as Ivo Papasov & His Bulgarian Wedding Band (Hannibal, 1989) and Balkanology as Ivo Papasov & His Orchestra (Hannibal, 1991)--introduced the genre to an international audience. Since moving to the U.S., Yunakov has formed his own group and recorded three terrific albums for the Traditional Crossroads label. Performing here in 2002, he led his ensemble in mind-boggling unison runs, navigating the zigzagging melodies with such superhuman precision that it seemed like he, accordionist Ivan Milev, and clarinetist Catherine Foster were all wired to a common nerve circuit. But as strong as Yunakov's output in the U.S. has been, it doesn't rival the manic abandon of the stuff he produced with Papasov (who made his Chicago debut last year with the local Orkestar Kolorit). On Balkanology the melodic patterns are so quick they're almost indecipherable, and the musicians play with the intensity of the damned straining for last-ditch salvation. Yunakov and Papasov haven't performed together in this country for 11 years, and this is their first time together in Chicago. Papasov brings with him accordionist Neshko Neshev and drummer Salif Ali, who will join two Yunakov regulars, guitarist-keyboardist Kalin Kirilov and singer Carol Silverman. Saturday, November 1, 8 PM, Saint Sofia Bulgarian Orthodox Church, 404 Oakton, Des Plaines; 847-827-3201. Sunday, November 2, 3 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-6630.

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