Uri Sharlin is one of the first-call accordionists in several New York scenes, from folk to jazz to Balkan music. This evening he and his jazz-inclined Balkan/Brazilian band the DogCat Ensemble played an energetic, dynamic set of instrumentals at the Lincoln Center atrium from their forthcoming album Back to the Woods (which is available now if you go to one of their shows) . True to Balkan tradition, the Israel-born Sharlin loves rhythms that are considered exotic in the west: the group would do a couple of bars in twelve, then they’d sneak one in eleven instead. He also has a passion for south-of-the equator sounds, the most exotic of these being Monte Verde, a jungly Costa Rican rainforest tableau that the band opened and then closed on a droll note, playing birdcalls on little whistles, Sharlin leading the band into a warmly tropical theme with washes of chords from his accordion.
He has chops that can be spectacular, but in this band he leaves the pyrotechnics to the rest of the group. Matt Darriau’s sizzling, apprehensively trilling first solo on clarinet on the moodily pulsing, nuevo tango-inflected encore, Night Swim, was one of them, bassoonist Gili Sharett maintaining the suspense and tension as he took the handoff. Guitarist Kyla Sanna lit up the opening theme, another tango-inflected tune set to a trickily dancing rhythm, with a long solo that rose from edgy jangle to knife’s-edge intensity. Bassist Jordan Scannella would occasionally swoop up into a brief cloudburst of chords when he wasn’t providing a fat pulse in tandem with drummer John Hadfield and percussionist Rich Stein, who alternated between a couple of boomy clay pots (and soloed on them at one point during the lively, sunny, tropical Don Quixote), shakers and a big standup tapan bass drum.
The group took a couple of diversions into tersely playful free jazz on a version of Brazilian multi-instrumentalist composer Hermeto Pascoal’s Dia #342, then flew into darker Balkan terrain on the wings of Darriau’s bass clarinet and Sanna’s guitar on One for Frankie. They took vivid daytime and nighttime snapshots of a balmy, mellow northern Brazilian seaside town, Mundau, first with Sanna leading the way, calm and methodical on acoustic guitar, then with Sharlin switching to piano for an allusively furtive, jazzier nocturne that picked up steam as it went along. The catchiest tune of the night was The Real DogCat, a somber roots reggae tune set to yet another odd tempo with dub-like effects from the percussion toward the end. They ended the set with a joyously dancing, bubbly Brazilian tune, Baio, the drummer swinging a clave beat, bassoon paired off against the bass clarinet and guest Itai Kriss’ flute all the way up to a droll trick ending. All of these songs are on the album, which has a similarly energetic, live sound; Sharlin’s next gig is at Barbes on Oct 23 at 8 with classical mandolinist Avi Avital.