Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Zagnut Cirkus Orkestar at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 6/26/08

Further proof that sometimes the best things happen by accident. Last night three of the Lucid Culture crew decided to reward themselves for running all over town these last few weeks, relaxing with some drinks while taking in a show by Matt Munisteri and Will Holshouser’s excellent trio Musette Explosion at Barbes. There were no plans to review the show, since they’ve already been featured here before: this was strictly for pleasure. But they weren’t playing. In their place were Zagnut Cirkus Orkestar, who’ve been on the shortlist for a review here for a long time, since catching their intriguing sound wafting from inside a shishi shisha bar in the East Village one cold winter morning what seems like eons ago. They’re the funkiest gypsy band you’ll ever see, a blazing, horn-driven unit who share several members with the equally bracing, perhaps even more exhilarating Ansambl Mastika. “New York’s own Balkan wedding band,” as they call themselves blasted through two wild sets of intense, improvisational revelry. This was a going-away party of sorts for their longtime singer Jodi Hewat, and while it was nice to be able to see her sing what might have been a final show with this crew, they’re perfectly good as an instrumental unit.

 

They opened with a long, psychedelic vamp which, although basically just a warmup, gave their trumpeter, reed player and accordionist the chance to cut loose with some evil solos. Their trumpeter soared and wailed all night, often going off on the same kind of scary, microtonal trills that Greg Squared (also of Ansambl Mastika), doubling on sax and clarinet, uses as a sort of signature device. Accordionist Matthew Fass, by contrast, is an especially terse player and perhaps the most adept of anyone in the band at this style of music, with its tricky time signatures and recurrent motifs that return when least expected. Bassist Reuben Radding (another Ansambl Mastika member) built a fat groove using a lot of judiciously placed chords and the occasional slide, while drummer Timothy Quigley (who seems to have a nightly residency at this place, with his weekly gig with Chicha Libre and all) put on a clinic in good fun and good taste. He didn’t waste a beat all night, and that’s all the more impressive since this stuff is all about the beat. 

 

Hewat added vocals to some of the numbers including a boisterously rueful one that she said was a mother’s lament about being broke with children. On one of the instrumentals, a somewhat stately, funereal tune, Quigley came out from behind the kit to play a bass drum slung around his neck. The night’s best stuff came toward the end of the band’s first set, including an instrumental that stole a page from the Hazmat Modine songbook, set to a reggae beat.

 

The show’s only drawback was the silly effects pedal that the guitarist was using. He’s an excellent player and also a great listener, often doubling either the sax line or bassline and playing expertly off the rest of the crew. But the box he was using was running his signal through a series of cheesy synthesizer patches, making him sound as if he was playing a dollar-store imitation Casio made somewhere in Fujian Province. You can bring acoustic instruments into fusion jazz and they work fine, but you can’t bring electronics (other than electric guitar and bass) into a band with a rustic, organic sound like this group has. Time for a new box, dude. Or maybe just lose it altogether and go straight through your amp.

June 27, 2008 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews

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