Joel Dwek & Danny Wiser
MOLDOVA: Oglinda - Trigon
Navel-gazing nonsense or experimental genius? You decide...
Joel: Look. I have to get this out of the way. I hated this album. I truly, truly despised it from beginning to end. I’ll get into why later, but first, some background. We try not to do hatchet jobs on this site. Negative reviews are, of course, a necessary part of being a critic, and a true critic needs to be able to dissect why they hated something just as much as they need to be able to articulate why something is great. But I am not a proper critic. I’m just a guy who had a music-related breakdown alongside a friend during a time of international calamity, and the ensuing therapy process has gotten way out of hand. We don’t have to review everything. We don’t get all the new releases and have to wade through them. We pick what we like, and we give it to each other to review, which acts as a kind of quality control. So, it was Danny who first found Oglinda, and he gave it to me to listen and review. And I hated it. Usually when that happens, we give it to the other person to review, as has happened once or twice before. But here, Danny and I felt there was merit in writing a negative review, because it provided a counter to Danny’s arguments in favour of the album.
Having listened to the album again, I found it similarly insufferable to the first time I listened to it, but the visceral anger I felt at having wasted my time was mostly gone. To give Trigon their fair due, they are good musicians. They can clearly play many instruments in several styles. The question I pose to you is this: so what? By experimentally fusing jazz and folk together they’ve stitched together a musical Frankenstein’s monster of the worst aspects of those genres, the self-obsessed arseholery of the worst jazz music, the unneeded frills of pointless experimentalism, and the sheer tedium of rubbish folk music. The old joke goes that rock music has four chords and a million fans, and jazz has a million chords and four fans. While there is a kernel of truth to that statement – rock is often deeply simplistic and very popular while jazz is often beautifully intricate with a more niche audience – there is of course excellent jazz music that can entertain, delight, push the boundaries, or both. I believe that is what Trigon have attempted to do, but in my view have failed to do so.
The music on Oglinda to me reeks of a band who are too clever by half. They are obviously accomplished musicians who can play very well. There’s jazz, Balkan folk, klezmer, all wrapped up here, but none of it comes together due to its sheen of experimentalism which just made it tedious. There’s a brilliant film called Cosmos, by the late, great Polish art house filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski. The film is absolutely bonkers, taking its cues from thrillers, dramas, comedies, and metaphysics, but once I got into it, it became extremely funny, because it was clear that the old master had made a loving parody of the genres and styles in which he had made his name. What would have been irritatingly bizarre became brilliant. With Oglinda, however, there is no such tongue-in-cheek enjoyment, and nor did I find it enjoyable on a purely intellectual level. It takes itself too seriously for what it is, and quite frankly by the point on the track in which we hear Blues, where we’re subjected to some atonal violin screechings, alongside a cod-Serge Gainsbourg impression, I gave up. I listened to the whole thing of course, but mentally, I had given up. Some tracks are more palatable. I kind of enjoy The Belt/Brau, because it is at least well performed and is rather tuneful, and the same goes for Dance in the Cart/Sarba In Caruta. In fact, it is true that the first half of the album is a bit better than the second half, where, beginning with Blues they do a nosedive into navel-gazing nonsense. As with anything, the only real review is ‘it’s good, if you like this sort of thing’. It just turns out, I absolutely don’t like this sort of thing.
“The fact that Trigon have been going for nearly three decades since their formation is a testament to the inventiveness and vigour with which they play.”
Danny: I am here to rebut Joel’s well thought out, intellectually driven criticism of the fusion of the two seemingly diametrically opposed musical styles - folk and jazz. Whilst the chaotic improvisatory genre of jazz seems an unlikely bedfellow of the traditional approach grounded in accuracy that folk requires, to me Trigon seem to pull off the task of entertaining the listener whilst still proudly showing off the music culture of the land they grew up in. The fact that Trigon have been going for nearly three decades since their formation is a testament to the inventiveness and vigour with which they play. Their ambition and experimentalism can be heard throughout Oglinda from the off. There are moment of real tension intercepted by a wildly enjoyable klezmer-esque introduction on The Lame Dance / Schiopatata and this is a style that the band pursue throughout. Songs like Dance In The Cart / Sarba In Caruta keep the listener on the edge of their seat constantly as they don't know what to expect yet, whilst the vocally-driven percussive beat, that is one step away from beatboxing on Haulita demonstrates the group's capacity to be brave and experimental even if it is not necessarily the most enjoyable song to listen to. For me, perhaps due to my pre-existent musical persuasions, I am most drawn to the final track The Mirror / Oglinda as though it incorporates a mostly improvisational jazz style it does occasionally dip into the world of funk-rock. Though the band has gone through many different incarnations over the years with many different members, violist Anatol Stefanet has remained a constant, performing on this 1998 release until today. His viola playing is at time something to behold and can really be enjoyed on this song. Though by no means my favourite album of all time, for me Oglinda has its place and despite echoes of pretention, I am left in admiration in the ability of the band to weave together such disparate styles in a piece that for my money is mostly coherent.