Eva Salina’s Scorching Saturday Night Debut

by delarue

Eva Salina Primack has been the go-to singer on the New York Balkan music circuit for awhile now, and has an upcoming collaboration with contemporary Bosnian accordionist Merima Kljuco. And somehow she’s finally found time to put together her own band, simply called Eva Salina. Their live debut Saturday night at a benefit for the Eastern European Folklife Center at the Ukrainian National Home was as both as feral and subtle as you would imagine from a group including Frank London on trumpet, Patrick Farrell on accordion, Rich Stein of Gato Loco on percussion and Ron Caswell playing simple, steady oompah basslines on tuba. Unlike most bands with a charismatic frontwoman, this one is just as much about the instrumentalists as it is the singer, Primack shimmying with her eyes closed, lost in the music while Farrell and London traded incendiary chromatics, the slinky vamps rising from a flicker to a flame.

The show was a characteristically eclectic mix of songs from across Eastern Europe, across the decades. Although Primack has a stunning vocal range in whatever language she chooses to sing in, this time out she aired out her lower register, sometimes brooding, sometimes brassy, sometimes sultry with just the hint of a rasp as the show went on. The effect was most impressive on a trio of songs in Romanes by the late, legendary Serbian gypsy crooner Saban Bajramovic. It takes nerve for an American to cover him; for a woman, it’s doubly difficult, but Primack nailed it, diving low and angst-fueled and eventually rising triumphantly on Me Mangava Te Kelav, a song whose gist is essentially “life sucks but let’s marry off my son and then party.” The tricky tempos of Rovena Rovena, a lament for a mother who’s left her family to go off to Germany in search of work, didn’t phase anybody, Primack poignantly evoking the pain and loss of a young girl left to fend for herself as London and Farrell sparred with an increasingly agitated series of chromatic riffs. And Pijanica, the lament of a drunk whose inability to pull himself together is gradually costing him everything, built matter-of-factly from a clapalong groove to a ferocious trumpet crescendo – as this band did it, at least he got to go out with a bang.

The most haunting part of the night was a pair of Bulgarian songs, Lenka Bolna Lezhi and Kate, Katerino, the first a plaintive account of a dying girl whose doctor eventually promises to heal her – if he can run away with her and marry her. The second implored a girl not to marry the local teacher, who has no house, and will probably drag her from town to town where the locals might think she’s a vampire (these songs’ lyrical content is sometimes as lurid as the Appalachian gothic that Primack also gravitates to, notably with her AE vocal duo project with Aurelia Shrenker). Ironically, the band did the most bizarre song of the night, the Albanian folk tune Trendafil (“Throwing your hair behind your eyebrows like a crown/What did the boy do that made you not talk to him?”) completely straight-up, the catchy major/minor harmonies of the accordion and trumpet so seamless over Stein’s relaxed backbeat groove that it was practically new wave rock. This band’s next gig is at the Jalopy on May 3 in a doublebill with Michael Alpert and Julian Kytasty’s excellent duo project.

Raya Brass Band were next on the bill. Their new album Dancing on Roses, Dancing on Cinders tops the list for best of 2012 so far (along with Chicha Libre’s new one, Canibalismo). As you would imagine, their Balkan jams are pretty amazing live. Now why would anybody want to blow off such a good band? It’s called having a life. Getcha next time, guys. Same to you, Forro in the Dark.