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Written in fRoots issue 307/308, 2009


A Records AR001 (2008)

The late Joe Zawinul said “Lelo Nika is the best accordionist I’ve ever heard, by far”. I’m not about to disagree, and this is a beautiful album.
      Nika, who plays button-keyed chromatic accordion, was born in a largely Romanian village in northern Serbia to a Serbian Roma family with a long musical tradition in both Serbian and Romanian music, but the family moved to Denmark when he was a baby and he now lives in Malmö in Sweden.
      His earlier albums have more overt Serbian, Romanian and Roma roots connections, but he’s a wide-thinking musician, finding musicians and making connections across musical genres. Last year’s Moving Landscapes, dedicated to Zawinul, with whom he had played, was predominantly jazz and jazz-rock. This one, in which he’s joined by Swedish double-bassist Thommy Andersson, Romanian Roma cimbalom player George Mihalache and a string orchestra, starts with a scampering version of Paganini’s Moto Perpetuo, and later he dashes off a storming version Rimsky-Korsakoff’s Flight Of The Bumblebee, but the bulk of the album comprises material by Nika and Andersson.
      Their suite of four Intuition pieces that occupies seventeen minutes of the album is slow, emotional and melancholy, the accordion not dominating but weaving with an expressive non-vibrato sound, sometimes note-bending like a harmonica, among glorious rich slithering slabs of orchestral strings. This is classical music in the tradition of central and eastern European composers of the late 19th and early 20th century, but incorporating modern approaches to double bass and accordion played with the extraordinary sensitivity, expressiveness and tonal variety that characterise the album – Andersson’s grinding, yearning bass on his own Northern Peak, Nika’s lyrical, grace-note-soaring Allurement, a Mihalache cimbalom solo and ending with more accordion note-bending in a slow-stepping, melody-deconstructing Nika solo improvisation
      Lelo Nika appeared at this year’s Førde festival in a dazzling new-formed accordion trio with Serbian Jovan Pavlovic and Bulgarian Roma Petar Ralchev; a fRoots interview piece with them is on the way.


© 2008 Andrew Cronshaw

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