Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Ion Petre Stoican: Sounds From a Bygone Age: Vol. 1 [Asphalt Tango, 2005]
Stoican was a not quite brilliant Romanian Gypsy violinist who in the early '60s personally apprehended a spy on the Black Sea coast. When the authorities offered him a house as a reward, he asked to make a record instead. Four tracks were completed, and his fame grew, but it took over a decade for him to obtain permission to cut this album in Bucharest. Aided by trumpeter Costel Vasilescu, he assembled an all-star 14-piece Lautari orchestra (twice the size of a wedding taraf) around cymbalom virtuoso Toni Iordache. If the later Yuri Yunakov and Taraf de Ha´douks are wilder, the speed and compression here are hard to miss--with 45 minutes to play with, Stoican keeps eight of 16 tracks within 15 seconds of 2:30 and holds another three under two. Emotionally the music evokes a more intense Western swing instrumental or bluegrass breakdown at the higher speeds, tango or perhaps lounge r&b when it slows down. Iordache's cymbalom, a hammer dulcimer that sounds a little like a balafon, tumbles everywhere. A-