EOL 7 CD Review

draghici CD coverDamian Draghici:
Romanian Gypsy Panflute Virtuoso

Produced by Randy Crafton; Executive Producer: Nick Fritsch. Recorded and mixed by Randy Crafton at Crafty Productions. Lyrichord Discs: LYRCD-7447 1999. Audio compact disc. 46 mins. Liner notes, 10 pp.

Also featured: Randy Crafton, tanpura, kanjira, darbuka, udu, and frame drum; Chris Cunningham, guitar; Michelle Kinney, cello and voice; Amy Platt, clarinet and soprano sax; and Omar Faruk Tekbilek, baglama, zurna, oud, and darbuka.

The press release included with this CD informs us that “Damian Draghici [pronounced 'drah-GHEE-chee'] is not your average Romanian Gypsy Jewish Virtuoso.” Draghici's colorful story, as it unfolds in the liner notes written by Draghici himself, and in the accompanying interview by Joel Segel, certainly illuminates the music itself, although it may prepare the listener for a somewhat different experience than the one this recording provides.

Damian Draghici is a panflute player from a well-known Romanian family of panflutists whose lineage stretches back at least five generations. Following his initial training with master teachers in Romania, Damian's story takes on two intriguing twists: the first is that he learned the panflute repertoire by listening to recordings on an old record player which was prone to changing speeds, thus altering the original keys of the recordings. As a result, Damian learned to play in a remarkable variety of keys and modes despite the apparent limitations of the panflute's G diatonic tuning. The second is that after playing jazz and popular music in various venues around Europe, he went on to receive a performance degree on the panflute from the Berklee College of Music.

Draghici's Berklee and other jazz experiences are evident in this music, but not in the overt way one might expect, given the kind of publicity he has received. This is not a synthesis of jazz and Romanian music; rather it is a more traditional mix of timbres, modes and styles which reflects both the permeability of the borders of the Balkan region and Draghici's own status as a transnational musician. The emphasis is on the commonalities of musical language among Turkish, Bulgarian, Indian, Greek and Romanian traditions and on the smooth integration of western instruments into a pan-Balkan sound.

audio icon Audio 1
"Ruby Dance"


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Track 6, for example, entitled “Ruby Dance” (Audio 1) is an original composition by Draghici which has its melodic and rhythmic roots in southeastern Romania. On this selection, Draghici is accompanied by Omar Faruk Tekbilek on the baglama (Turkish long-necked, fretted lute) and darbuka (Turkish goblet drum) and by Randy Crafton on a frame drum. Like most of the other tracks, it begins with a slow introduction, a formal feature common to the Balkans, Turkey, and India.

In addition to the baglama and darbuka, a number of instruments from both east and west accompany the panflute, including guitar, zurna (shawm), ney (Turkish rim-blown flute) oud (Turkish lute), cello, clarinet, soprano sax, tanpura (Indian string drone) and additional percussion from the Middle East and India.

audio icon Audio 2
"Because You Are Beautiful"


Track 2, “Because You are Beautiful” (Audio 2) is a Greek song which is features many of the instruments mentioned above, introduced quietly into the arrangement one at a time.
The middle section opens up to allow Tekbilek the chance to improvise briefly.

Despite the diverse instrumentation, the overall effect of the CD is remarkably homogenous, owing no doubt to careful studio mixing as well as to the formal similarities of the arrangements which unfold slowly and generally maintain a fairly sparse texture. The panflute is always at the front of the mix, and the other instruments often sound much more distant, even when they are playing a solo. The studio reverb on the panflute is always apparent in varying degrees, but is relatively restrained. The smoothness of both the sound and the arrangements create a commercial feel that is the most strongly-felt pop influence on the recording.

audio icon Audio 3
"Unreachable Horizons"


Those listeners accustomed to hearing traditional music from this part of the world with less studio processing might miss some of the edgier timbres, as I did. Even the Turkish zurna, which is normally an impressively loud instrument with a harsh, nasal voice, is softened and smoothed out in Track 5, “Unreachable Horizons” (Audio 3). It features Omar Faruk Tekbilek on zurna, voice and oud.

The written material included with the CD is not, of course, directed to an academic audience. In addition to an engaging autobiography, there are brief notes, also written by Draghici himself, for each of the tracks. Like his biography, these are personal and warm. They contribute only small bits of information about each song, including the region which inspired or provided the melody. Nonetheless this recording should be of interest to Balkan specialists and others who follow developments in the marketing and production of world music.

It is clear from this CD that Damian Draghici is indeed a talented panflute player. More remarkable than his Berklee degree is the fact that he has managed, even with his international experience and a diverse set of musical collaborators, to remain somehow within the bounds of Romanian tradition, expanding the repertoire and the context, and creating a pan-regional synthesis while at the same time paying tribute to the distinct styles of various regions.

His playing across borders challenges us to re-think (yet again) our notions of tradition, national, and inter-regional musics, as well as the possibly revolutionary role of the studio in the presentation of the latest generation of traditional musicians from every part of the world.

finalized 27 August, 2001

Suzanne Camino

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