Cocek! Brass Band Put the Exclamation Point in Original Balkan Dance Music

by delarue

The last time Cocek! Brass Band played New York, their set uptown at Shrine had barely gotten underway before a pretty girl in the crowd went to the bar and bought them a couple of rounds of shots. Which were gone by the next song. And the five-piece Boston Balkan group played like they’re used to that kind of stuff. Especially frontman/trumpeter Sam Dechenne, who’s also a member of innovative klezmer dance unit Klezwoods…and is best known as a regular member of long-running second-wave roots reggae band John Brown’s Body. Although JBB probably get offered stuff that’s smokier than what these guys were downing in between songs.

What sets Cocek! Brass Band apart from so many of their colleagues in the thriving American Balkan demimonde, other than that exclamation point, is that Dechenne writes the songs. Beyond the bristling chromatics, tricky rat-a-tat rhythms and rapidfire, redline solos is a cheery but dynamically shapeshifting sensibility and a surprisingly wry sense of humor that looks back to Eastern European dance music while taking it to new places. The band are bringing their high-octane show back to New York on what might be the year’s single best night of music, at Drom tomorrow night, September 25, as part of the New York Gypsy Festival. The Coceks open the night at 8:30 followed by explosive, theatrical Balkan punk rock band Bad Buka at 10, then Raya Brass Band – the tightest and most epic among all the great Eastern European acts in New York – and then similarly fiery if somewhat more traditional Baltimore Romany dance band Balti Mare, whose name means “big pond” in Romanian, hitting the stage at 1 AM the morning of the 26th. Advance tix are $15 and are still available at the club as of today.

Cocek! Brass Band’s debut album Here Comes Shlomo came out last year. It’s always fun to see a prediction come true, but they more than validated what this blog said about it, “ A good indication of the blend of virtuosity and raw power that this crew brings to the stage.” One of that night’s many high points was a minor-key number with a beat that veered between what could be reggae and could be disco – which, when you think about it, is disco in Serbia. Jaunty broken chords lept from the end of the band’s phrases, trumpet, trombone, tuba and standup drum all in sync.

A loopy, catchy, downwardly spirailng trombone riff contrasted with Dechenne’s calm, sailing lines on the next tune; then they slowed things down with a blazingly resonant, undulating  9/4 groove, Dechenne switching from intense to jaunty and carefree with a long solo against the rest of the band’s percolating harmonies. Then they switched to an edgy, circling, minor-key Ethiopiques drive! And a doomy waltz after that. There was a lot more material in the set which made it neither onto the tape nor into longterm memory.. Considering that the show was on a sketchy block in Harlem and it was late on a work night, and that there was still a decent crowd in the house, the Drom show will undoubtedly draw a lot more people: there will be line dancing.