Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Wild Balkan Intensity from A Hawk and a Hacksaw

Neutral Milk Hotel made some good music but nothing this amazing. A Hawk and a Hacksaw were originally a solo project of that band’s drummer Jeremy Barnes, which grew both in members and diversity as he immersed himself in Eastern European music, including a noteworthy collaboration with Hungarian group Hun Hangar Ensemble. Their new album Cervantine is characteristically intense and eclectic, something of a cross between the “new Balkan uproar” of Ansambl Mastika and the hypnotic dancefloor string-band grooves of Copal.

The epic masterpiece here is No Rest for the Wicked, a blistering suite of what are essentially variations on a fiery Balkan brass piece: accordion and strings picking it up, a long, suspense-building crescendo, a couple of wildly adrenalizing accordion solos and a graceful march out. It’s nothing short of breathtaking. They don’t try to outdo themselves after that, instead following with a lushly clanging, hypnotic bouzouki vamp. Espanola Kolo is a deliciously ominous gypsy tune, morphing from a somber march to wild ensemble passages with a particularly artful section with the brass and accordion going doublespeed against the stately grandeur of the strings. The title track follows, quieter and more brooding but similarly tuneful, featuring a raw, intense, tremolo-picked saz lute solo.

They take the popular gypsy standard Uskudar and give it a lush, understated majesty and a bracing violin solo that throws off all sorts of otherworldly overtones. Laszlo Lassu is a tone poems of sorts with an unexpectedly effective gospel flavor; after that, they pick up the pace with another crazed Balkan dance, shifting from the delirium of a hook that they run again and again that builds to one of the most darkly memorable choruses here. The album winds up with a gorgeously plaintive bouzouki song playfully titled The Loser. The band will be on West Coast tour starting in March (check their site for tour dates).You’ll see this on our Best Albums of 2011 list at year’s end.

February 15, 2011 Posted by | gypsy music, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ansambl Mastika’s Second Album is Raw Adrenaline

Combining the raw power of gypsy punk with the precision of jazz, Ansambl Mastika’s new album Songs and Dances for Life NONSTOP is literally the best of both worlds. They call their sound the “new Balkan uproar.” It’s got the same instrumentation as the pop music currently coming out of the Balkans, but without the wanky fusion sound or stiff, robotic, computerized rhythms that plague so much of it. Reedman Greg Squared leads the band on clarinet and tenor sax, with unearthly speed and relentless intensity: his formidable chops obviously draw deeply on legends like Ivo Papasov and Husnu Senlendirici. The rest of the band displays a similar blend of ferocity and virtuosity. Ben Syversen – whose unhinged, assaultive noiserock/jazz album with his band Cracked Vessel was one of 2010’s best – plays trumpet, along with Matthew Fass on accordion, Joey Weisenberg on electric guitar, Reuben Radding on bass and Matt Moran on percussion. These are long songs, typically clocking in at seven minutes or more – more than anything, Ansambl Mastika haven’t forgotten that what they play is dance music.

The opening track, Zurlaski Cocek (a Greg Squared original) sets the stage for what’s to come. It begins with a suspenseful clarinet solo into a long, burning vamp, a triumphant solo from Syversen, and a big reggae-tinged crescendo roaring with bass chords that the clarinet finally launches into whatever’s out there past the stratosphere. They bring it down a little bit afterward with a biting, Cypriot-flavored traditional Greek medley with some interesting flamenco rhythms, stately ambience from Fass and distant menace from the clarinet again. The Turkish-themed march Mahkum Efe is something of an Istanbul street scene through the mist, with a powerfully building trumpet solo from Syversen. And the Slovenian Memede Zlatna Ptica has the feel of a classic, anchored by fat, crescendoing bass and a long, smoldering sax interlude.

A collaboration with the innovative all-female Brooklyn Bulgarian folk choir Black Sea Hotel, Ispukav Poema sets Ruzica Apostolova’s Macedonian lyrics to lushly otherworldly four-part harmonies that soar over a catchy, jangly turbo-folk tune. Nova Zemja is a brilliantly bizarre, eclectic mash-up of surf music, psychedelic rock and Serbian brass with a raga undercurrent: it might be the best song on the album. A dramatic, dark duo of Macedonian songs features some neat harmonies between Greg and Rima Fand (who has an exciting new project setting Frederico Garcia Lorca poems to music); a couple of Turkish numbers veer from wry wah funk to scorching, melisma-driven exhilaration. The album ends with an irrepressible psychedelic rock arrangment (with cautionary English lyrics) of the old folk song Dafina – watch out, the girl’s dangerous! – and a hallucinatory, shapeshifting version of the Greek To Spiti kai o Dromos. All this is as exhilarating as it is eclectic. It may only be February, but right now it’s the frontrunner for best album of 2011. Watch this space and see where it lands in December.

February 11, 2011 Posted by | gypsy music, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The NY Gypsy Festival Closes Summerstage With a Blast of Sound

Year after year, the NY Gypsy Festival remains one of New York’s most consistently exciting concert series. There are four shows remaining, all of them at Drom: flamenco band Espiritu Gitano on the 30th; eclectic world dance group Delhi 2 Dublin on October 1; ferocious Balkan brass with Veveritse Brass Band and Zlatne Uste on the 2nd, and the Django Reinhardt tribute on the 3rd with Stephane Wrembel and Balval. A festival pass is $32, which translates to $8 a show, or about six bucks a band. But a vastly more persuasive enticement for prospective concertgoers was put on display Sunday at Central Park, with upbeat and often deliriously fun performances by a global cast including Yuri Yunakov, Tecsoi Banda, the NY Gypsy All-Stars and Mahala Rai Banda.

Yunakov hails from Bulgaria, where he famously collaborated with the legendary Ivo Papasov. Wedding gigs there got out of hand when literally thousands of people would crash the party to see them. Running his alto sax through a glistening veneer of reverb and delay, his tone was so close to a string synthesizer at times that it was hard to differentiate between him and his two keyboardists. But when he’d light into a casually frenetic solo riddled with lightning, chromatic doublestops, there was no doubt it was him. In fact, everyone in the band made it look easy, including his sparring partner, clarinetist Salaedin Mamudoski and also his percussionist, who kept a smoothly sputtering clatter going throughout the set, adding a hypnotic edge. Chanteuse Gamze Ordule joined them as they introduced her with a tongue-in-cheek striptease theme and added a bracing, throaty insistence as she swayed and undulated out front. One of her vocal numbers bounced along on almost a reggae bassline; another was a punchy, cocek-style dance. For all the ominous, brooding minor keys and bracing chromatics, it was a party, as the growing line of dancers to the left of the stage made absolutely clear.

Tecsoi Banda had made their North American debut the night before at the Ukrainian National Home, but they hit the stage ready to party again. Like American blues musicians of the 1920s and 30s, they’re all-purpose entertainers. They’ll do a Russian Orthodox wedding, a Jewish one, it doesn’t matter: they’re sort of the ultimate Ukrainian roots band. With Joska Chernavets on accordion, Ivan Popovych on fiddle, Vassili Gudak sadly pretty much inaudible on his tsymbaly (a kanun-style hammered dulcimer), bass drum player/singer Juri Chernavets with his little plastic mouth flute that he’d occasionally squawk on like a Jamaican with a whistle at a reggae show, and American klezmer fiddler Bob Cohen sitting in and adding a brisk intensity, they ran through a mix of upbeat and more stately material. As far removed from Ireland and Appalachia as their music is, there were familiar licks and melodies that wouldn’t be out of place in an Irish reel or a bluegrass breakdown. They used a lot of dynamics, varying their tempos, going doublespeed and then back again. Their best numbers had a somber, minor-key klezmer tinge; they closed with a couple of scurrying Carpathian dances, the second one finally featuring a funny solo from the drummer’s mouth flute.

The NY Gypsy All-Stars had the most modern sound, which ironically gave them the most authenticity of any of the acts on the bill: their fusion-tinged bounce is the one you’ll find in clubs all the way around the Black Sea. Compounding the irony is that they kept it very terse: Jason Lindner’s electric piano and Pangeotis Andreou’s five-string electric bass never took it to Jaco-land. Frontman/clarinetist Ismail Lumanovski is one of this era’s giants of the instrument – check him out sometimes with the Grneta Duo +1 with Vasko Dukovski and intense pianist Alexandra Joan for his more austere, purist side. Like Yunakov, he has blistering speed, but he doesn’t make it look easy: there’s an untamed, feral side to his playing that contrasted well with guest Selim Sesler (a frequent sparring partner). Sesler may be known as the Coltrane of the clarinet but his style is closer to vintage Lee Konitz, or for that matter, Miles Davis, and he chose his spots to cut loose against Lumanovski’s barrages. The rapidfire rivulets flowing from Tamer Pinarbasi’s kanun added yet another layer of turbulence, a very good thing considering the slick sonics.

By the time the headliners, Mahala Rai Banda (which in Roma, the gypsy language, means “hot ghetto band”) hit the stage, the occasional drizzle had subsided and the arena was clearly filled to capacity, most everyone dancing. The eleven-piece Romanian brass orchestra may play traditional instruments, but their vibe is pure gypsy punk (Gogol Bordello, naturally) with a frequent ska beat and the occasional hint of reggae or hip-hop. And with all those horns, the sound is titanic: they use them the way Gogol Bordello use guitar, at full volume. Accordionist Florinel Ionita is their lead player, blasting through one supersonic, microtonal riff after another, Peter Stan style, with the pulse of the tuba and the drum skulking behind the horns’ chromatic assault. They even did a song with an oldschool disco beat – for whatever reason, the crowd decided that was the time to pelt the band with the cheap foam rubber frisbees that were being handed out (BAD idea). Another hitched an oldschool American soul feel to a dancehall reggae interlude. But the best was what they started with, three blistering, anthemic minor-key numbers that shifted tempo suddenly, hitting the crowd with a trick ending and then restarting when least expected. They ran out the clock until their last second of stage time with a long series of outros: the crowd wanted more but didn’t get them, sending this year’s Summerstage series out on a deliriously high note.

September 28, 2010 Posted by | concert, folk music, gypsy music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 9/20/10

This is sort of our weekly, Kasey Kasem-inspired luddite DIY version of a podcast. Every week, we try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone: sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. We’ve designed this as something you can do on your lunch break if you work at a computer (and you have headphones – your boss won’t approve of a lot of this stuff). If you don’t like one of these songs, you can always go on to the next one: every link here (except for #1 this week) will take you to each individual song. As always, the #1 song here will appear on our Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of the year.

1. Klezwoods – Cuperlika

Centerpiece of the Balkan/klezmer/Middle Eastern band’s titanicallly good new cd Oy Yeah. Put it up on the web somewhere guys, you’ll sell a lot more records!

2. Serena Jost – Stay

Characteristically stark and compelling solo cello art-rock song from her forthcoming cd.

3. Band of Outsiders – Graveyard

Absolutely off the hook post-Velvets guitar madness, live at the Parkside this year. They’re at Bowery Electric on 9/23 at 10 opening for Richard Lloyd.

4. Ninth House – Down Beneath

Frontman Mark Sinnis was making this video in a cemetery in upstate New York when he noticed that the seemingly random grave he’d chosen to lie on belonged to one Mary Ann Larson, who died on Sinnis’ birthday in 1853. Coincidence? The band play the cd release show for their new one on 9/24 at at UC 87 Lounge, 87 Ludlow St. at 11.

5. Amy Bezunartea – Doubles

Hang with this – it’s worth your 3 minutes. Not your average girl with acoustic guitar, described by her label (Jennifer O’Connor’s project Kiam) as “kind of Joni meets Magnetic Fields” but better. Free download.

6. Zikrayat – Ish-Showq Mihayyarni

Classic obscure 50s Egyptian film music from the movie ‘Aziza’ starring Naima Akif, live at Galapagos last year. The song starts about 1:20 into the clip. They’re at Moustache (Lex and 102nd) at 8 PM on 9/24.

7. The Poludaktulos Orchestra – Rajkos

Brass band intensity – the missing link between Greece and Serbia, with Klezwoods’ amazing guitarist.

8. Gertrude Michael – Sweet Marijuana

Via night of the purple moon – precode movie music from 1934.

9. Amanda Thorpe – River Song

The dodgy sound reflects the crappy venue this was recorded at, but Thorpe’s voice transcends it – a classic that sounds as good as it did a couple of years ago.

10. Los Incas Modernos – Terremoto

An early Peruvian surf band – you can get lost in this stuff on youtube.

September 21, 2010 Posted by | funk music, latin music, lists, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 9/13/10

This is sort of our weekly, Kasey Kasem-inspired luddite DIY version of a podcast. Every week, we try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone: sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. We’ve designed this as something you can do on your lunch break if you work at a computer (and you have headphones – your boss won’t approve of a lot of this stuff). If you don’t like one of these songs, you can always go on to the next one: every link here will take you to each individual song. As always, the #1 song here will appear on our Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of the year.

1. Botanica – Who You Are

The lure of comfort and complacency punctured with vivid, characteristically savage skill by this era’s greatest art-rock band, the title track from their shockingly diverse latest album. Click the link and then on the music player in the upper righthand corner of the page.

2. Serena Jost – A Bird Will Sing

Intriguing solo version of the title track to the art-rock siren’s forthcoming album. In case you’d rather hear the finished version sooner than later you can always contribute to her kickstarter campaign.

3. Brass Menazeri – Da Zna Zora

Wild live version of a Serbian folksong by the blazing Bay Area brass band.

4. Gamelan Dharma Swara – Tour Medley 2010

New York’s own community gamelan orchestra went on competition tour to Bali this past summer: this is a series of hypnotic, beguiling excerpts from those performances, including Tabuh Pisan Bangun Anyar, the rarely played Kebyar Legong, Sikut Sanga and Sudamala. Scroll down to the “listen” link on the left side of the page. They’re playing the Fat Cat on 10/24 at 8.

5. Matthew McCright – Dance Prelude #3

Scroll down to hear the Minnesota pianist have a great time with a ragtime song that sounds like vintage Scott Joplin – but it’s a brand new piece by Daniel Nass. He’ll be playing this possibly at Merkin Hall on 9/25 at 8.

6. The Black Angels – The Sniper/Bad Vibrations

Deliciously rever-drenched, dark garage stuff from their new album Phosphene Dream, recorded live at a secret show at the Orensanz Center last week.

7. Carl Wayne – Midnight Blue

A rare b-side from 1983 – the late frontman of the Move finds the inner pop gem in a song bastardized in its only previous appearance on ELO’s Discovery album.

8. The Mike Baggetta Quartet – Olive Tree

The noir-tinged jazz guitarist and his combo in warm lyrical mode.

9. Radio I Ching – untitled

This is free jazz legend/impresario Dee Pop’s latest crazy project – this is a dark and twistedly cool dub reggae tune.

10. Christian Marclay compositions streaming live at the Whitney

In case you’ve gotten over to the Whitney Museum recently (we haven’t), they’re doing a Christian Marclay retrospective there year and streaming it live. The next one is at 1 PM on the 15th and features accordionist Guy Klucevsek.

September 14, 2010 Posted by | folk music, jazz, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brass Menazeri’s New Album is Gorgeously Intense

Here in New York we have Slavic Soul Party, Raya Brass Band, Veveritse and of course the godfathers of East Coast Balkan brass, Zlatne Uste. The San Francisco Bay Area has gypsy brass band Brass Menazeri and they are equally awesome. Their new album Vranjski San is just out on Portofranco Records. As much as there’s plenty of cross-pollination in Eastern Europe, American gypsy bands really mix up their styles: there’s something to be said for the argument that the newly converted (or at least those who didn’t have the good fortune to grow up with this stuff) are more dedicated than those born into a religion. And as any fan of gypsy music or Balkan music knows, it’s sort of a religion. Brass Menazeri (pronounced “menagerie”) seize this passion and run with it, from from Serbia to Rajasthan. What’s most striking about the album is how long the songs are: most of them clock in at least five minutes or more, because what this is first and foremost is dance music. It’s a great album to wake up to if REALLY waking up is your game plan.

Many of the tracks use the eerie Middle Eastern hijaz scale, sometimes the minor keys (and occasionally the happier major keys) of the west, sometimes all of them in the same song. When the music goes all the way down to a break with the tapan (bass drum), that’s usually a signal that something unexpected and fun is about to happen. As much as virtually of the tracks here are dance tunes, many of the melodies are quite haunting. Mejra Na Tabutu has a graceful bounce, but also a rivetingly wounded vocal from one of the band’s frontwomen, and an otherworldly ambience – which makes sense, considering that the title means “Mejra in the casket.” Likewise, Phirava Daje (I Traveled, Mother) moves along matter-of-factly on a riff that sounds straight out of an old African-American spiritual, with a distant whirlwind of horns featuring both swirling rotary horn and moody, austere clarinet by bandleader Peter Jaques.

The title track, a mini-suite of sorts, blurs the line betwen klezmer, the Balkans and the Middle East, bubbling horns behind the plaintive lead melody. Another aptly titled number, Cocekahedron works rich, shifting layers underneath fiery doublestops and a cleverly orchestrated handoff from clarinet to trumpet. Perhaps the most strikingly beautiful song here is E Davulja (The Drums) with its poignant vocals and brooding clarinet over the horns’ staccato insistence. The Greek numbers here share a blustery, breathless, rapidfire intensity. There’s also a Balkanized version of a big Bollywood hit from the 90s full of playful call-and-response; a handful of introspective solo horn taqsims, including a rewrite of a Benny Golson theme; and the jazzy complexity of the cover of Saban Bajramovic’s iconic Opa Cupa that closes the cd. Minor keys or not, most of this is pure bliss. Bay Area fans can see Brass Menazeri’s next gig at the bracingly early hour of 11 AM on 9/15 at the SF Summerfest at Embarcadero and Battery.

September 13, 2010 Posted by | folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

This Hole’s Got a Bucket in It

Ben Syversen plays trumpet in two of New York’s best bands, Balkan juggernaut Raya Brass Band and also ferociously eclectic guitar-and-horn-driven “new Balkan uproar” outfit Ansambl Mastika. His new solo album Cracked Vessel is a masterpiece of warped, paint-peeling noise and spontaneous fun. Part noise-rock, part free jazz, with frequent Balkan and funk tinges, it screeches, squalls and rattles its way through one side of your cranium and out the other. Easy listening? Hardly, but it’s without question one of the most deliciously intense albums of the year (it’ll be on our Best of 2010 list at the end of December). Alongside Syversen’s alternately thoughtful atmospherics, blazing Gypsy sprints and tersely wary passages, Xander Naylor’s guitars do triple duty, serving as both bass and percussion along with providing some of the most memorably twisted sonics recently captured on disc. The beats can get even crazier when Jeremy Gustin’s drums are in the mix; otherwise, he holds this beast to the rails while it thrashes to break free and leap into the nearest abyss.

The album opens with the possibly sardonically titled Frontman, Syversen playing sort of a “charge” theme over percussive, trebly guitar skronk. As is the case frequently here, the drums crash in, the guitar goes nuts – and then it’s over. A staggered, off-kilter stomp with Balkan overtones, Weird Science sounds like a sketch that Slavic Soul Party might have abandoned because it was too crazy even for them, especially as the guitar careens and roars. Bad Idea contrasts pensive, terse trumpet against gingerly stumbling guitar underneath, finally exploding in a ball of chromatic fury and then back down again. Naylor cools the embers with sheets of reverb-drenched white noise.

The fourth track, Untitled, begins with a creepy minimalist Bill Frisell guitar taqsim and gets even weirder: even Syversen’s pensive, sostenuto trumpet can’t normalize this one. Krazzle works a long noise-funk crescendo up to a macabre trill, all the way down through a shower of amplifier sparks to virtual stillness – and suddenly they’re back at it. End of Time turns a playful trumpet-and-guitar conversation into a memorably nasty confrontation and another effective quiet/insane dialectic; From the Abyss has Syversen craftily dodging everything Naylor and Gustin can hurl at him, which is a lot, all the way down to a netherworld where a richly and unexpectedly beautiful minor-key art-rock song assembles itself and then eventually fades. It’s the most counterintuitive and richly satisfying passage in the entire album. There’s also the aptly titled Apparition, a study in percussion on all available instruments; Fried Fruit, a twisted funk tune, and the bonus track, Talk, which hints at minor-key janglerock before going completely off the rails with several blasts of guitar fury and finally a brutal, bodyslamming crescendo. The louder you play this, the more exhilarating it is. Definitely not for the faint of heart. Watch this space for upcoming shows.

August 4, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Jim Guttmann – Bessarabian Breakdown

This album is really fun. Klezmer Conservatory Band bassist Jim Guttmann takes a bunch of klezmer and Balkan brass originals and has a great time rearranging them in a whole bunch of different styles, backed by an inspired, like-minded crew including trumpeter Frank London, guitarist Brandon Seabrook, pianist Art Bailey and eight more horns and reeds. Since the early days of the klezmer revival, guys like these have been putting a new spin on haunting, mournful old ideas: Guttmann’s are especially imaginative and playful. The melodies still resonate, but the good time the band is having is contagious – you can actually dance to a lot of this.

The boisterous version of the traditional Philadelphia Sher that kicks off the album has the horns punching hard up against Ted Casher’s soaring clarinet, a striking contrast with the blithely swinging piano trio version of the Johnny Mercer tune And the Angels Sing that they segue into. Guttmann supplies the energy in this one with a genially expansive solo. From there they take it to el Caribe with the slinky mambo Descarga Gitano and its lush, sensual horn chart, a London solo adding considerable cheer, Guttmann – who doesn’t waste a note on this whole album – bringing the sun down with one of his own before Seabrook’s electric guitar goes wild to kick off the night. Cuando El Rey Nimrod is rearranged tersely for just bass, acoustic guitar and percussion with echoes of a levantine oud instrumental, bass deftly carrying the melody over the judicious clatter and sway. Then they take the title track and turn it into a Jimmy McGriff style organ shuffle – and is that a Michael Jackson quote?

Sadegirer Chusidi (Take Off That Shmatte) motors along with Mimi Rabson’s violin on a casual, Balkan bounce. The albun winds up with a straight-up Balkan dance, a vertigo-inducing tangle of interlocking horns, and a stately, pensive solo bass version of Fim di Mekhtonim Aheym. There’s also a rousing suite of three violin-driven dances and another suite rustically enhanced with mandolin and accordion. And no disrespect to this crew’s inspired swing cover of Dark Eyes, but it’s impossible to top the Les Paul version.

March 29, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Boban i Marko Markovic – Devla: Blown Away to Dancefloor Heaven

Truth in advertising: Serbian brass legends Boban i Marko Markovic’s new album is a party in a box. The title, Devla, is an exclamation, sort of Serbian for OMG! Bandleader/flugelhorn player Boban Markovic and his trumpeter son Marko play blistering, rapidfire clusters of eerie gypsy harmonies, backed by accordion, clarinet and sometimes a real rhythm section, sometimes a synth and drum machine (the use of several different singers undoubtedly necessitated the use of multiple recording situations). Whatever the case, the power of the brass overshadows the occasional cheapness of the production [New Yorkers – if you wonder what they spin at Mehanata, this is it, you can take the party home with you now]. Most of the originals here are by Marko, and as a rule they are excellent, from an ominous, slinky vamp punctuated with astringent, microtonal reed solos, to the title track (a huge club hit – you’ve undoubtedly heard it if you’re into this stuff), to the machine-gun staccato of Hopa Cupa, to Kazi Baba with its mysterious bounce. A cover of a similarly bouncy Saban Bajramovic Balkan pop hit features a passionate, gritty vocal by Mustafa Sabanovic; Sofi Marinova’s vocal gives another dancefloor number a Madonna-goes-to-Sofia vibe. Of the low-key numbers, there’s a slow, stately swinging jazz orchestra tune with Cab Calloway-esque vocals by Ljubisa “Luis” Stojanovic – in Serbian. For those not familiar with the vernacular, the effect is bizarre yet heartwarming. There’s also a nice, soulful, expansively fluttering cover of an instrumental by Turkish clarinet god Husnu Senlendirici rearranged for brass. This album is intense enough to satisfy the most hardcore Balkan brass fan yet accessible enough to cross over to an international dance music audience: devla, this is fun!

January 13, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trouble in Tribeca, Part Two: Chicha Libre, the Cuban Cowboys and Slavic Soul Party at the 92YTribeca, NYC 1/8/10

Booking agency Trouble Worldwide’s night of showcases for the annual APAP booking agents’ convention continued with two New York institutions who call Brooklyn bar Barbes their home, sandwiched around comedic Bay Area Cuban/American retro rockers the Cuban Cowboys. We have reviewed shows by Chicha Libre a few times; we have seen them more times than we can count. Even by their standards, this one was deliriously fun, the high point of the night (and when you can upstage Slavic Soul Party, that’s pretty damn good). For those who don’t know the band, their style of music is chicha, which takes its name from a Peruvian corn liquor which is sort of that country’s equivalent of Olde English or Colt .45. Wildly popular on a regional basis in the 1970s, chicha music blends psychedelically-tinged American surf music, a Colombian cumbia beat and bits and pieces of just about every other latin style from Brazilian to salsa. Chicha Libre had been asked by the producers of the Simpsons to provide a chicha version of the show’s theme song in honor of the cartoon’s 25th anniversary, which aired Sunday (you can hulu it): the song very cleverly skirted the theme but didn’t tackle it head-on until a break midway through. Because chicha bands in the style’s heyday so frequently chichafied music from just about everywhere else on the globe, Chicha Libre do the same, with results that vary from haunting (the understated, swaying version of Erik Satie’s macabre Gymnopedie No. 1 that they used to open the set on a subdued note) to amusing, notably a cover of Hot Butter’s 70s novelty synth instrumental hit Popcorn (which the band uses as a tribute to corn liquor and weed). They also gave Vivaldi the chicha treatment (Spring, from the Four Seasons, retitled Primavera en la Selva i.e. Springtime in the Jungle), as well as running through tight covers of songs from the classic chicha era, from the hilarious El Borrachito (The Little Drunk Guy), an infectious version of a Juaneco classic and the scurrying Pato de Perro (Dog’s Paw). Josh Camp’s vintage Electrovox electric organ swirled and spun off a forest of eerie overtones and Vincent Douglas’ Telecaster provided the requisite noir twang and clang while Olivier Conan’s cuatro in tandem with the percussionists clattered like an old VW taxicab, confident in its knowledge of every rut and bump in the road.

The Cuban Cowboys brought a stagy, occasionally campy, over-the-top sensibility to their Cuban-inflected mix of reverb-soaked surf and garage rock songs. A tongue-in-cheek number about a gay sailor bounced along on a ska beat; by contrast, a dark, minor-key tango reflected on the Obama adminstration’s failure so far to normalize Cuban-American relations. Another serious number, Dance with the Devil touched on the band’s disastrous experience with a big record label. They closed with the side-splitting Senor Balaban, a nonstop, rapidfire Spanish-language narrative about a kid getting a sex education talk from a bunch of old Cuban geezers. “It helps if she’s drunk,” one of them soberly asserts.

Slavic Soul Party have earned themselves a reputation as just about the most exciting thing happening in original Balkan brass music, and reaffirmed that with a characteristically blazing set to end the evening on an high note. The eleven-piece band has toned down the hip-hop attitude a little bit, concentrating on the music, from the joyous, spot-on James Brown funk tune they opened with, standing in the middle of the crowd in front of the stage, to the playfully satirical faux-techno of the title track from their previous album Technochek Collision that closed the night. Playing every Tuesday night at Barbes has made them incredibly tight – watching all the horns play one rapidfire cluster of eerie chromatics after the other, in perfect unison, was intense. Several of the songs were partitas, sometimes leaping into warpspeed, sometimes shifting with seeming effortlessness from a slinky, quasi-latin groove to fullscale stomp, accordion, trumpets and trombones all getting the chance to bring the songs to redline with breakneck solo crescendos. The title track to their latest cd was the high point, suddenly dropping to a Balkan trip-hop vamp taken up again on the wings of a blazing bop trumpet solo, all lightning doublestops and glissandos. It’s impossible to imagine that there could have been a better show anywhere in town that night.

January 11, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments