Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Ansambl Mastika at Shrine, NYC 11/21/09

Ansambl Mastika call themselves the “new Balkan uproar.” What they do is definitely new and different, they are indelibly Balkan (although they range a lot further, usually toward the east) and what they play could understatedly be called an uproar. They’re one of New York’s best bands in any style of music, and they reaffirmed that uptown on Saturday night.

Since the Europeans didn’t invent jazz, they took to fusion a lot more readily than Americans did, and unfortunately some of fusion’s most annoying attributes – cheesy settings, garish solos and a complete lack of communication between musicians – still haunt a lot of music coming out of the former Eastern Bloc. Ansambl Mastika are an antidote to that. While they use electric guitar and bass along with rhythms that veer from gypsy to jazz to rock, the chemistry between the band members was characteristically playful and gripping. Nobody stepped on anybody, there was all kinds of interplay and it was obvious that this crew has a blast playing together. Which they should. Bandleader/reedman Greg Squared (who also plays in seemingly half the good Balkan-inflected bands in town, notably Raya Brass Band) was in his usual high-intensity mode, firing off blistering clusters of chromatics on both clarinet and sax. Bassist Ruben Radding (also of Zagnut Cirkus Orkestar and several jazz projects) felt the room, holding down a fat groove with an understatement that made his infrequent chords and slides all the more intense. This time out the group were in a particularly Greek/Macedonian mood, their leader taking a vocal on a handful of numbers.

They opened as a lot of gypsy bands do with what was basically a one-chord jam that gave their trumpeter a chance to cut loose with an ominous, chromatically-charged abandon. Accordion took centerstage on the next number as its introductory Greek waltz took a bitter, Middle Eastern-infused riff down to the lower registers, clarinet fueling the fire. The next looked like it was going to go totally fusion a la what the NY Gypsy All-Stars fall prey to sometimes, but it didn’t when the guitar and accordion turned it over to the horns, and then the guitar kicked in using almost a Fender Rhodes tone. After flailing around with some tricky time changes the band brought it back with a snarling, 4/4 stomp. The other tunes included a stripped-down, rustic, Macedonian-flavored number with the drummer on a standup bass drum and a wildly slinky, chromatic ride to the depths of the Adriatic on the wings of a long, triumphant trumpet solo where the guitar took over and then proceeded to make dark, unexpected janglerock out of it. They wrapped up the set with another Greek tune with a Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood feel on the chorus, incisively bluesy guitar teleporting to the Sahara in a split second. And then it was over. If you wish you’d been at  this one, Ansambl Mastika play Drom at 9 on Dec 11 on an excellent doublebill with Ethiopian jazz group the Debo Band.

Advertisements

November 26, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Goran Alachki at Drom, NYC 1/20/09

If people in New York were celebrating the Obama inaugural, they were doing it in private. Tuesday night downtown was dead. You know you’re in a depression when a cult artist like Goran Alachki plays a rare New York show at one of the best clubs in town and the place isn’t sold out: it may have been a cold night, but the Macedonian accordionist/composer is a star on the Balkan circuit, and for his fan base here, a live gig is a big deal. But Alachki didn’t let it phase him. He was here to celebrate, and if the club had let him, he would have played all night, turning the crowd who did show up into a sea (ok, a little pond) of bouncing, twirling bodies and ripping through one devilishly tricky dance after another until the pickup rhythm section assembled for this gig was clearly out of gas.

 

Alachki plays with sensational speed and a crisp, staccato attack much more like a horn player than a keyboardist. It’s a unique style, and he’s made it his drawing card, firing off volley after volley of perfectly articulated notes rather than (with the exception of the twenty-minute partita that began the set) any lengthy chordal excursions. Most of his exhausting, almost two-hour set was dance material, the songs typically beginning with a bright major-key interlude before descending in a split second into darker, Middle Eastern timbres. The Balkans are where a multitude of compelling styles, with Spain beckoning in the distance on one end and Asia minor on the other, came together over the centuries, the eerie glimmer of Turkey and the Middle East sometimes in the background, sometimes completely taking over the melody. Some of what Alachki and his remarkably tight, talented backing unit – clarinetist Bajsa Arifovska, Zagnut Cirkus Orkestar bassist Reuben Radding, and percussionist Seido Salifoski – played would have been perfectly at home in an Egyptian movie from the 50s. Other songs had a mournful, deliberatedly paced klezmer feel. Still others had a Mediterranean sunniness, if only til the tempo shifted and suddenly the sky darkened.

 

As aggressive and adrenalizing a player as Alachki is, the night’s biggest crescendos all belonged to Arifovska. Although what they were playing was obviously composed through, there was a great deal of improvisation going on. As a clarinetist, she plays with a dark, wary, full tone, very often doubling the accordion lines. But when she got the chance to go out on her own, she brought the sound to redline. On several occasions, she rode out an insistent wail until the rest of the band could only play along and wait for the fever pitch to subside, for her to come down out of the stratosphere. She also played electric piano on a few songs, as well as bass drum. Alachki also impressed with a song he played on four-string lute (another big star turn for Arifovska).

 

After about an hour of instrumentals (including a marvelously witty cameo by Stagger Back Brass Band accordionist/bandleader Patrick Farrell), Alachki brought his wife Adrijana up to do vocals and it wasn’t long before she had the crowd line-dancing in perfect time: while many in the audience were clearly not Macedonian speakers, she went for a few singalongs and managed to pull in the crowd at every turn. Then she went out for a smoke, and the band went back to instrumentals. For those who might regret missing this show, no worries, this same band is playing Hungarian House, 213 E 82nd St. on 1/23 at 8 for $12.

January 21, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment