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Music | WORLD MUSIC REVIEW

Taking tradition and amping it up a bit

Les Yeux Noirs add rock energy to middle European sounds.

May 09, 2003|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Imagine a pair of hyperactive violinists garbed in fashionable rock 'n' roll black, vigorously leaping around a stage playing gypsy tunes with a rock beat, and you'll have a vague idea of what Les Yeux Noirs are all about. The French ensemble, founded by violinist brothers Eric and Olivier Slabiak, also tosses in a healthy dose of klezmer music, traditional Yiddish songs, a trace or two of classical sounds and some atmospheric vocals.

And in their performance Wednesday at the Conga Room, they did all that, with a group sing-along for good measure.

That's a recipe that could have produced a less than savory goulash. But to Les Yeux Noirs' credit, when they were good, they were very good. The rapid-fire exchanges between the Slabiaks' violins produced the most invigorating moments, filled with enough high-voltage drive to trigger exuberant responses from the crowd.

The slower tunes, with their sensuously sliding violin phrases, virtually transformed the room into a gypsy fireside. And the mid-tempo, hora-like rhythms, enlivened by swift bursts of improvisation, had the spirit and enthusiasm of contemporary klezmer.

There were also less gripping moments in the lengthy program, when repetitive phrases and predictable harmonies seemed framed by "Havah Nagilah" and the music from "Fiddler on the Roof" (neither of which they actually played). The idea of combining the essence of middle European traditional music with the energies of rock isn't a bad idea, nor is it particularly new. Les Yeux Noirs do it as well as anyone, but they need to spice up that goulash with some new ingredients.

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