Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

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

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