Kalman Balogh & the Gypsy Cimbalom Band | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Kalman Balogh & the Gypsy Cimbalom Band


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Spanish flamenco and the "hot jazz" French guitarist Django Reinhardt forged in the 40s and 50s remain the most widely acknowledged musical contributions of the Rom people, better known as the Gypsies. But groups as diverse as Hungary's Muzsikas, Romania's Taraf de Haidouks, and India's Musafir are slowly revealing to the world a more complete picture. On his terrific new album, Gypsy Jazz (Rounder), Hungarian cimbalom player Kalman Balogh covers a lot more terrain than the traditional Okros Ensemble, with whom he performed here last month. His sextet keeps pace with breakneck swing rhythms, dips into jive ("Hora de la Bim-Bim" seems to be kin to the early jazz gem "Diga Diga Doo"), and weaves together distinct Balkan styles in buoyant medleys that go by bland titles like "Transylvania Suite," "Macedon Tunes," and "Bolgar Gypsy Horo." The group's rhythmic ferocity, which distinguishes it from the more folkloric Muzsikas as well as the Okros, makes this coherence possible. If I didn't know better I'd think Dave Douglas was stealing from trumpeter Ferenc Kovacs, with his rhythmically daring, liquid, full-toned solos; and violinists Sandor Budai and Laszlo Major, in addition to their fluency in eastern European styles, have jazz chops to rival Django's longtime partner Stephane Grappelli. Bassist Csaba Novak--whose aggressive slapping eliminates any need for a drummer--and guitarist Sandor Kuti make the strongest swing connection, driving the music hard without overheating it. And Balogh, whose instrument is a type of hammer dulcimer, is downright remarkable, tripling as a lightning fast rhythmatist, a harmonic anchor, and a lyrical soloist. Wednesday, 7 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-6630. PETER MARGASAK

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