State-of-the-Art Balkan Brass Tunes and a Mehanata Show from Cocek Brass Band
Sam Dechenne plays trumpet in long-running second-wave roots reggae band John Brown’s Body. But like a lot of brass players, he’s fluent in many styles, and has a thing for Balkan music, a style he explores in first-class Boston Slavic party band Klezwoods. And that turned out to be his holy grail, no surprise considering that hearing Fanfare Ciocarlia for the first time as a middleschooler changed his life forever. He’s got a new project, Cocek Brass Band, with a blazing new album Here Comes Shlomo (a pun on Dechenne’s first name), and an album release show coming up on Oct 4 at around 9 at Mehanata. The album is streaming at the band’s music page; cover is $10 and worth it: they played a New York show this past summer at Shrine and ripped the roof off the place.
On one level, they come across as sort of a Boston counterpart to New York’s Raya Brass Band, with smart, out-of-the-box original songwriting and fearsome chops. But on album at least, Dechenne’s group focuses more on tunesmithing than volcanic jams: what soloing there is here, and there’s not a ton of it, is extremely focused and terse. The band also has a theme song, which they use to kick off the album , tuba player Jim Gray providing a rat-a-tat backdrop while the two trumpets and trombone slink their way from moody hints of reggae to rapidfire chromatics over drummer Grant Smith’s echoey tapan drumbeat.
The title track morphs back and forth between a droll disco beat and a more traditional, swaying rhythm; likewise, the band sandwiches a little New Orleans street music amidst the minor-key riffage. A slow, pensive number, Vagabond Dreamin’ balances the balmy and the bittersweet, Dechenne ornamenting his solo with spiraling Serbian phrasing. Clown Walk, a waltz, actually keeps a lid on most of the cartoonish stuff – unless you’re thinking Edward Gorey. Like most clowns, this guy seems to be a pretty disquieting guy.
Juggler’s Journey brings back a slinky, bracingly bubbly minor-key groove with subtle hints of flamenco and even hip-hop. Who Cares opens as a series of variations on a challenging, trickily rhythmic riff, then goes in a more lingering, low-key, Spanish-tinged direction before the band brings it to a boil again. The coyly titled Drone Song builds out of a suspenseful, cinematic intro to a slow waltz, animated phrasing from the trumpets rising over long sustained tones from the tuba or trombone.
Magic Man and His Magic Hat and His Magic Vest works colorful hooks over long, clip-clop vamps. Figs or Dates returns to a jaunty blend of Romany firepower and a goodnatured New Orleans strut, with a dynamic, intense, trilling Dechenne solo. The band hangs out in a major key all the way through the slow, steady A’bab Cada over the broken chords and dancing basslines emanating from Gray’s tuba. That’s right, a dancing tuba: this guy really makes the big thing sing. And then they pick up the pace at the end.
The epic Slow Jump, Fast Fall pretty much follows the tangent implied by the title: a trudge up the mountainside, a long scampering ride down the flume where Dechenne gets to air out his extended technique, and a droll return to the opening theme. The album winds up with There Goes Shlomo, a more straight-ahead variation on the title track, and then the album’s lone vocal number, Mountain Love Song. brightly cheery horns holding the center as the singer attempts to hit his notes. It’s a great album and a good indication of the blend of virtuosity and raw power that this crew brings to the stage.