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Farmers Market - Surfin' USSR CD (album) cover


Farmers Market


Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.18 | 10 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
3 stars FARMERS MARKET is yet another wacky band emerging from Norway and SURFIN' USSR seems to be the album of choice by many fans and the only one i've heard so far simply because it is so raved about. The band started out as a free jazz quintet fresh out of the conservatory in Trondheim but soon unshackled themselves from all traditional norms and started to incorporate rock, pop, bluegrass, classical and their signature adoptive sounds such as Balkan and Bulgarian folk music. Throw in some surf guitar, some progressive time signature mind bleeps and you got an interestingly weird band on your hands. Yep, the kind i relish and seek out constantly!

While this band covers many genres the main gist here is energetic Balkan folk music with a couple tracks heading to Bulgaria for inspiration. One thing is for sure. These guys can really play their instruments with a technical prowess unmatched in most fusion arenas where rock meets jazz with ethnic world influences vying for control. Between the jagged rhythmic patterns that stop and go at breakneck speeds and the lovely melodic developments of the traditional scales and instruments leading the musical pack, i'd be tempted to give this a whopping five stars like many have due to the excitement generated in some of the cream of the crop deliveries on this one.

FARMERS MARKET unfortunately, to my ears, suffers some disappointing attributes that don't get me as excited as this album as many others have made it out to be. First and foremost it's inconsistent. It starts off strong on Parts 1 and 2 of the title track with energetic surf guitar ceding to Balkan folk instruments and scales usurping any Western musical agenda. The main instruments are the kaval, a chromatic end-blown flute that is the famous sound of the Balkans and Turkey as well as the gaida which is a type of bagpipe most popular in Macedonia and Bulgaria. The execution of these instruments is quite well performed but as a major connoisseur of Balkan gypsy music i have to state that i find them simply copying the styles of existing folk music of the region and not really adding a lot to it except for speedier chops and exaggerated time sigs.

There are several tracks on here that are pure gold. "Anyone Who Remembers Vladiwoodstock Wasn't There!" is not only a clever title but has the coolest funky bass line with an almost Klezmer type of feel making me think more of the Sinai peninsula rather than the Balkans. "To Hell And Baku" is another golden moment with a thrashy metal type of intro before breaking into a hyperactive Balkan folk riff that incorporates some killer guitar and off-kilter proggy time sigs. "From Prussia With Love" is another highly energetic proggy number with a clean jazz guitar keeping the rhythm and a highly caffeinated kaval taking the energy to new levels creating one of the coolest tracks on the album complete with the way cool accompanying percussion of the Indian tambura, bongos and freaked out bass line which is followed by the outstanding "Red Square Dance" which is my favorite track with the traditional Balkan folk on full speed going on here. The kaval is just off the hook in the prog department delivering stunning hooks and this sounds sort of like a traditional Balkan band gone maaaaaad!

While those highlights are worth the price of admission there are also some tracks that totally rub me the wrong way. First up is the uninspiring cover of Gerry & The Pacemakers "Ferry Cross The Mersey" which here becomes "Lodtschitze Mini Maritza" which sounds totally out of place on this album, the mediocre "The Dismanting Of The Soviet Onion Made Us Cry" which is rather insipid and rather dull and the other out of place track here "Steroid Train Trip" which sounds like a Bela Fleck and the Flecktones reject with it's banjo inspired jazz-fusion approach. What really irks me most about this album is that it has two totally incongruent tracks that are basically Bulgarian vocal folk music tracks that are typical of the region and much better done by the international superstars Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares or also known as the Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir.

Overall i don't feel this band has learned how to seamlessly blend all these styles together in a way that the much better disciplined Secret Chiefs 3 has managed to blend such disparate influences into a new kind of whole. Spoiled am i with their ability to do so but FARMERS MARKET's SURFIN' USSR simply sounds like it's trying to take on too many styles and influences too fast resulting in a stilted delivery as the album unfolds. Where it's great, it is astounding but where it fails, it feels like a major let down leaving a lopsided disappointing feel as the final result. This is the only album i've heard by them and i certainly haven't written them off but if this album represents their peak then i'm afraid they don't stand a chance in the eclectic global fusion world where bands like Secret Chiefs 3, Atomic Ape and a whole new school of newbies are taken global fusion to new levels and beyond. An intriguing album that falls short of expectations but there are certainly some exciting moments on this one. 3.5 but rounded down because of the inconsistency

siLLy puPPy | 3/5 |


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