New York Balkan Favorites Raya Brass Band Unveil Their Fiery, Eclectic New Album at Littlefield on Friday Night
Of all the fantastic Balkan bands in New York – the pioneering Zlatne Uste, the eclectic and erudite Slavic Soul Party, party monsters Tipsy Oxcart, the gorgeously artsy Sherita and others – Raya Brass Band have made a name for themselves as probably the most intense of the bunch. Their previous releases, Dancing on Roses, Dancing on Cinders in 2012 and then This Train Is Now in 2013 both ranked in the top echelon of the best albums lists here in each of those years. Their latest album, simply titled Raya, is their most accessible yet eclectic and dynamic collection of songs. It’s their London Calling, or Daydream Nation, or Kid A. They’re playing the album release show at one of their usual NYC haunts, Littlefield on November 13 at around 10. The similarly intense, considerably trippier West Philadelphia Orchestra opens the night at 9; cover is $15.
Raya Brass Band’s other albums have made to the web, as should this one once it’s offically out. As of today, the opening track, Unify, is already up at the group’s Bandcamp page, a swaying, strolling number driven by the slinkiest tuba player in existence, Don Godwin, as Greg Squared’s alto sax and Ben Syversen’s trumpet bubble and soar over the clickety-clack twin percussion of Nezih Antakli and Rich Stein. It’s a prime example of the band in high-spirited mode.
Dren Gajda is a lot more characteristic of the barbwire chromatics, tricky tempos and brooding ferocity of the rest of the band’s catalog, Greg Squared’s melismatically crystaline lines flying matter-of-factly over Matthew Fass’ droning accordion until Syversen joins the festivities and then the party really heats up. Sugar and Salt pairs bagpipe-like Greg Squared lines with Fass’ misterioso atmospherics as it gets going, then the horns hit a fanfare and then they’re off, through alternately hypnotic and wickedly catchy riffage.
Sunken Angels opens on a similarly suspenseful note, then hits an enigmatically animated, early 70s Isaac Hayes-style stoner soul groove with hints of Ethiopiques. That rustic, anciently otherworldly African ambience comes front and center in With Every Drop That Falls, Syversen’s pensive hooks punching through a gorgeously opaque horn/accordion chart, Greg Squared’s looming microtones taking it deep into Balkan noir after that.
Ivan’s Tune has more of a machinegunning Romanian Romany flavor, like a smaller scale, less frenetic Fanfare Ciocarlia. Bag of Nails blends a hypnotically syncopated, Macedonian-style beat, moody atmospherics and a long, anthemic minor-key drive upwards.to an unexpected salsa-flavored interlude. Of all the tracks here, the best one might be Mirage, with its minor-key edge, Fass’ hints of dub, Greg Squared’s aching alto solo and a menacingly fluttering twin-horn outro. Or it could be the album’s subtly sardonic concluding march, Club Mono. where Greg Squared twists and turns through some mind-warping guitar voicings with his sax. It’s been a lot of fun watching Raya Brass Band grow from a feral, haphazardly wild dancefloor jamband into this wickedly tight, stylistically shapeshifting, distinctively original unit. This release marks yet another amazing achievement by one of the half-dozen best bands in New York in any style of music.