Ljova, Lost in Kino (Kapustnik Records, 2011)
As an in-demand classical violist, member of the New York gypsy band Romashka, and leader of his own group the Kontraband, Lev "Ljova" Zhurbin keeps himself busy. Perhaps the most interesting facet of his work, though, is his scoring of the soundtracks to numerous films, from low-budget art house movies to more ambitious projects directed by people like Francis Ford Coppola. On Lost in Kino, his third album, Ljova performs (with some help) two dozen of his original soundtrack compositions.
Lost in Kino is broken into two halves. The lighter first half primarily reflects the Eastern European side of Ljova's musical background with contributions from his bandmates in Romashka, but is bookended by two bluegrass-flavored pieces featuring Mike Savino on banjo. Because the pieces were composed for particular movie scenes, a lot of them clock in at less than a minute and end rather abruptly. Even the longest track on the first part, "War Then Peace," is a composite of several different musical themes. Taken together, though, the fragments connect like a gypsy Abbey Road. The compositions may have originally been designed to reflect different moments in different movies, but collectively they present a quick sampling of the many diverse styles of Balkan and gypsy music. Romashka's performances are never less than first rate, and this portion of the disc makes for some fun listening.
The second half of the disc consists of generally lengthier pieces more serious in tone. The music in this section is mostly classical in feel, although some of the tunes maintain the Eastern European influence and two are even Oriental in flavor. The longer compositions can be considered on their own terms, and not just in the context of this album the movie they were made for. Of these, the highlight is a beautifully arranged extended instrumental called "The Coup." Another very strong track is "Russian Winterland, "a very pretty waltz featuring Inna Barmash (Romashka's singer and Ljova's wife) singing the melody line the second time through.
Ljova's compositions range from very quirky and tongue-in-cheek to very meticulous and deliberate, with a lot of stops in between. One way or the other, his work is always intriguing and worth a listen. Lost in Kino manages to cover a lot of musical ground in a relatively short amount of time, but broad diversity and quality compositions make for an effective combination.
Overall grade: A-
reviewed by Scott