Greg Squared’s Circle Foreshadows a Killer Bed-Stuy Twinbill on the 15th with One of the Year’s Best Shows
One of this year’s best twinbills is happening at Friends & Lovers in Bed-Stuy on June 15 at 8 PM, with psychedelic Balkan organ band Choban Elektrik – sort of the Doors of the New York Balkan scene – and New York’s contender for best American Balkan horn group, Raya Brass Band.
In addition to that collective, their de facto bandleader, alto saxophonist/clarinetist Greg Squared has a couple of other projects. Sherita, fronted by brilliant violinist/mult-instrumentalist Rima Fand, plays edgy originals with sometimes dreamy, sometimes acerbic klezmer, Romany and flamenco influences. He also leads the wryly titled Greg Squared’s Circle, a vehicle for working up new material. They don’t play as often as Raya or Sherita but when they do it’s always a treat. Their gig at Barbes back in March – which might be their most recent live appearance – was one of the year’s most exhilarating shows.
Their bandleader is a pyrotechnic player – it would be a stretch to call him the American Ivo Papasov, since nobody has Papasov’s speed or precision, but he’s in the same league as, say, Ismail Lumanovski. He and the band opened with a bitingly catchy four-chord number in 7/8 time that Raya Brass Band sometimes plays. On sax, their frontman showed off his eclecticism, beginning with pillowy melismatics, taking his time building steam as the band finally sprinted to the finish line. Meanwhile, guitarist Adam Good took a sputtering, eventually lightning-fast solo, bringing the song to redline.
Their second number was a bouncy, comfortably vampy tune with lots of rapidfire eighth-note runs from sax and clarinet, then another jagged sharks-teeth solo from Good, ushering in the stormclouds. They segued out of that into a real epic, another Greg Squared original with long, simmering, eventually searing solos for bass, clarinet, and finally Good firing off one vicious hammer-on after another.
They went back to the Raya catalog after that for a catchier, more terse Madeconian-flavored tune, alternating between major and minor keys: it was cool to hear it in a more expansive, slightly less explosive arrangement, guitar in place of accordion and rock drum kit in lieu of standup tapan bass drum. Good’s clenched-teeth raga-ish licks, Greg Squared’s steadily stampeding volleys – on sax and clarinet – and the fat groove of the rhythm section dominated the rest of the night’s first set. They got psychedelic and atmospheric toward the end.
The second set was even more epic, with a couple of majestically crescendoing new songs going on for around fifteen minutes apiece, awash in moody chromatics, pulsing along on tricky, shapeshiftingly undulating grooves. It’s likely that Raya Brass Band will air out at least a few of these in slightly different arrangements. If minor keys are your thing, you would be crazy to miss this show.