A Must-See Eva Salina Residency for All You Balkan Music Fans

by delarue

Chanteuse/accordionist/bandleader Eva Salina is one of the world’s most sought-after singers of Balkan and Eastern European music. As a result, she spends a lot of time on the road. Right now she’s in town for an extended spell: when she’s not up at Lincoln Center, teaching New York City school kids about the thrills and chills of Romany and Macedonian and Bulgarian folk tunes, she and her killer band can be found on Monday nights at around 9 PM at Sisters Brooklyn, 900 Fulton St. (Washington/Waverly, right at the Clinton-Washington C train) where they’re playing a weekly residency for the foreseeable future. Their debut performance there was last week, followed by a deliriously fun show the following Friday at Friends & Lovers in Bed-Stuy.

The band opened the show there with an extended jam. Accordionist Peter Stan (also of Slavic Soul Party) is this group’s not-so-secret weapon, bobbing and weaving and ranging from misterioso intro improvs to endless, rapidfire volleys of chromatics and bristling minor keys. On one hand, it was surreal to see guitar shredmeister Brandon Seabrook hang on simple, ominously lingering minor chords for bar after bar, but he’d also shift into maniac mode when least expected, throwing off jagged shards of skronk, elephantine exuberance and unnameable toxic frequencies. Likewise, trumpeter John Carlson (also of SSP) alternated between moody, sustained lines, often in harmony with the accordion, when he wasn’t picking up the pace with an edgy, jazz-infused focus. Tuba player Ron Caswell teamed with drummer Chris Stomquist for some unexpectedly bouncy, spring-loaded grooves for music which isn’t known for being particularly funky.

They built from Stan’s first brooding intro to a dub-infused pulse, rising with Seabrook’s snorts and wails, then some elegant chromatics from Carlson, handing off again to Stan for a whirling vortex of a solo. The bandleader then joined them for an intense, achingly microtonal, melismatic, almost reggae-tinged cover of one of the numbers on her upcoming album Lema Lema: Eva Salina sings Šaban Bajramovic. The late Bajramovic, with his otherworldly, wounded, full-throated style, was revered in his native Serbia and remains a beloved cult figure throughout the Romany community. It’s hard to think of an English-language singer who channels heartbreak like he did – Orbison is close, but no cigar. Beyond the rock world, Hector Lavoe makes a better comparison, although Bajramovic didn’t rely on falsetto as much. Eva Salina has nuance and power to match his: that an American woman would spearhead a Bajramovic revival is pretty radical in itself, especially where that music comes from.

They followed with a jaunty minor-key strut, a springboard for Eva Salina’s torchy, brassy side. Her previous album, Eva Salina Solo – mostly just accordion and vocals, or a-cappella – is as plaintively riveting as anything released this decade. This band, on the other hand, is her fun project: up in front of the group, she swayed and shimmied, eyes closed, completely one with the songs. Check out their high-voltage take of Opa Cupa, another Bajramovic number from later in the night. The Sisters residency continues this Monday, Feb 23 at 9, features two sets of tunes and there’s no cover.