WHILE Martin Swann's Stobo Village Band may have seen themselves as the appetiser for the "meat and potatoes" of this exhilarating night of Balkan sounds, their klezmer-tinged tunes set it up wonderfully.
Serbia's brilliant Balkanopolis, led by composer and multi-instrumental Slobodan Trkulja, were the highlight. Opening with an orthodox prayer song rich in oriental melody, their compelling music was rooted as much in village sounds as jazz and rock.
It was easy to appreciate why Trkulja's "Tradimodern" music is at the forefront of the Serbian-Balkan scene as the group shifted effortlessly between pieces led by strong harmonic voices, goat-skinned bagpipes, wooden flutes, saxophone, clarinet and Armenian duduk. Fast and furiously uneven dance rhythms evoking the lyrical jazz-infused wedding-band music of Bulgaria's Ivo Papasov were entrancing, with the keyboardist referencing Weather Report and Miles Davis to mention just two seminal influences. This is a tight band forging its own sound, taking the kind of risks that have you on the edge of your seat.
Their brio almost eclipsed Croatia's Kries, a hybrid orchestra of equally versatile musicians playing an unclassifiable brew. Their singer Mojmir Novakovic is a man of disarming sincerity whose mystical laments for his country were transformed into infectious rock dances played by guitars, knee violin, violin, more goat-skin village pipes and pounding heartbeat drums.