When I was a young snotty early-teenage thing, on Sunday afternoons I’d have to bear my mom’s Eastern European folk and polka radio programs. Naturally, I thought of this music as square, corny, etc., UNTIL I heard this one piece of music from Macedonia. It had these driving, swirling rhythms with wild time signatures, like I heard Brubeck’s Quartet do, then there was this passage for duo/dueling wind instruments that, with its deep sonorities and intense internal logic, sounded like something I’d heard on an Anthony Braxton record! (Yeah, I was one of those misfits in high school: while my contemporaries were listening to Grand Funk and Marshall Tucker, I was listening to Zappa, Gato Barbieri and Gong.) So then and there I made a mental note to check out this Macedonian folk music. Much is made of the African influence on jazz, but the European elements are somewhat "played-down," given much less importance. (Reverse racism? Go figure.... ) Anyway, one can listen to East/Central European klezmer and Balkan folk music and pick up on the affinities these forms have with jazz - or, you can just point to two key figures in the development of European jazz: Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, whose Gypsy/Rom and Gallic roots are pretty obvious. (They were among the first Eurojazzers who had their own sound, instead of nicking/aping the American Sound.) Which brings us to the Yuri Yunakov Ensemble and their latest disc Roma Variations. Their beat is Rom (the p.c. term for Gypsy) and Bulgarian folk-dance music, but if you’re thinking guys and gals in funny hats doing quaint folk dances, forget that: this Yunakov plays some energized, bright, mercurial, twisting alto sax that would exhaust many of today’s Young Lions. His horn has much of the "cry" of Charlie Mariano and J. Coltrane’s soprano circa ’63 (but filtered through his own E. Euro-frame of ref.) and the jolly, robust dexterity of Rahsaan Roland Kirk. You think East Europeans can’t play the blues? Dig "Jazz Hora," with its swaggering blues-march theme (sort of Henry Mancini meets Art Blakey on holiday in Bucharest 1960) and the un-obvious blues inflection in the sax and accordion solos. The frenzied yet temperate "Kyuchek Arabesque" takes a tango on the road to Morocco. Roma Variations is the aural equivalent to a triple cappuccino - blows away the doldrums, gets ya goin.’ Damn fine stuff, this.