New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Month: January, 2018

Pianist Noa Fort’s Darkly Pensive, Catchy Tunes Transcend Category

Over the past few years, pianist/singer Noa Fort has been concretizing a remarkably terse, succinct, purposefully pensive sound that draws on her jazz background as well as western classical music and her own Israeli heritage. Her debut album No World Between Us is just out and therefore not yet at any of the usual places. She’s playing the album release show this Jan 23 at 7 PM a the big room at the Rockwood; cover is $10.

Fort sings in a bright, clear, expressive voice, backed by Zack Lober on bass and Ronen Itzik on drums. The opening track, Now Is Our Time is a trip-hop song built around a central, mantra-like chorus, the point being that all we have is the present moment. As Itzik builds momentum, Fort expands into the darkly lyrical, neoromantically glittering terrain that’s become her signature sound over the past few years.

“Will I become what I should be, or will I just be?” she ponders in Traveling (In Time and Space), again building intensity with a catchy, rising three-chord pattern. Over a swinging One For My Baby-style bass riff, Fort considers “a kiss that never came, the touch without the shame” in the similarly crescendoing Variations on Longing.

A tone poem of sorts awash in swooshy cymbals and tumbling tom-toms, Mirrors is more or less rubato. “Don’t let the mirrors haunt you…don’t be a stranger,” Fort cautions, over lingering and then slowly cascading piano phrases. With its menacing chromatics, tricky metrics and torrential lyrics, the album’s most striking track is Unwritten Signs – it could be a standout anthem by unpredictable art-rockers Changing Modes.

With its eerie, Satie-esque harmonies and brooding Hebrew lyrics, Empty Space (Halal Paur) is just as dark. Fort maintains that ambience as Winter Requiem opens, but rising from a dirge to a resolute drive, to weather the emotional wasteland til spring.

“Shut your mouth and tell me what you feel, I don’t need ears to hear,” Fort instructs as the album’s playfully surreal, tango-inflected title track opens, building through a darkly lustrous series of ripples with Josh Deutsch’s steady trumpet riffs at the center.

The message of The Guest House, a English translation of a Rumi poem, is carpe diem, set to jaunty, dancing variations on a hypnotic, emphatic piano riff, with more trumpet and a spring-loaded bass solo. The album winds up on a similarly upbeat note with its longest track, the oldschool soul-inspired Just Wait. Whatever you call this, don’t call it jazz-pop: there’s nothing whatsoever cheesy about Fort’s translucent tunes and lyricism.

Fun fact: Fort is the younger sister of another eclectic, lyrical pianist, Anat Fort.

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An Epic, Nebulously Haunting Oceanic Art-Rock Suite Winds Up This Year’s Prototype Festival

The annual Prototype Festival began as a forum for avant garde opera but has grown to encompass lavish choral suites, dystopic Balkanic epics and noir cabaret. Last night at Here’s black-box theatre in SoHo, the performance was a dark, similarly eclectic rock show with projections for a backdrop.

Violinist Carla Kihlstedt’s career spans from classical, new music and the far expanses of jazz to the brooding rock of her Rabbit Rabbit Radio ensemble. This time out she led her seven-piece group – her husband Matthias Bossi on drums; Jeremy Flower and Michael Abraham on guitars (the former doubling on keys); Ariel Parkington of the Parkington Sisters on violin, Kristin Slipp on backing vocals and George Ban-Weiss on bass – through her new, distantly stormy, nebulously kinetic suite Black Inscription, which explores oceanic eco-catastrophe.

While the overall atmosphere remained on the somber side, tempos and meters shifted and varied considerably throughout the more-or-less contiguous suite. Bossi propelled the beast with remarkable restraint, taking into consideration the space’s intimate, rather dry sonics.

Likewise, Kihlstedt and Parkington’s violin lines were terse and purposeful, whether building angst-fueled, emphatic crescendos or more atmospheric harmonies. The polyrhythmic interweave between voices – pretty much everyone in the band sang – and the instruments added to the relentless unease.

The group opened with a twinkling, undulating, funk-tinged psychedelic soul instrumental that brought to mind early 70s Mies Davis, or a Roy Ayers Film score. From there the group worked spare, alternating voices over odd meters, with a 80s Peter Gabriel-style anthemic sensibility. Then they went more hypnotic and intense, bringing to mind early 80s Siouxsie & the Banshees without the microtonal vocals.

The suite’s centerpiece was the title number, a slow, towering, Pink Floyd-style theme referencing what appeared to be some sort of ominous seaside motif. That symphonic grandeur would recur later in the suite, as did that reference, in one of a handful of voiceovers by a veteran deep-sea diver.

Lingering, occasionally flaring minor-key guitar melodies rose and fell over a fat low end sometimes taken even further into the depths by the bass’s octave pedal or envelope-shifting effects. Meanwhile, the strings, swooshy keyboards and the womens’ voices built lushly kaleidoscopic astringencies that alluded to but never rose to fever pitch. This was more about shock and awe than sheer terror, although there were a couple of detours into David Lynch film score-style menace.

The visuals and voiceovers took a backseat to the music: glistening sea life in the depths and infrequent detritus quickly gave way to geometric overlays, while the narrator mused about the nuts and bolts – and thrills – of descending far beneath the waves. If we’re lucky, the Prototype Festival folks had the presence of mind to record one of these performances so that everyone who missed it can enjoy it. This show was definitely worth releasing as a live album – and will reprised today to conclude the festival, with performances at 4 and 9:30 PM. Tickets are pricy – $30 – but the show is worth it, and they’re still available as of this morning.

Another Picturesque, Edgy Album and a Mezzrow Release Show by the Danny Fox Trio

There are few more colorful or individualistic bands in jazz than the Danny Fox Trio. Considering that they’ve been together for about a decade, there are also few other groups with as much devious interplay as pianist Fox, bassist Chris van Voorst van Beest and drummer Max Goldman typically conjure up. Their latest album The Great Nostalgist – just out, and not at Spotify or the other spots yet – is a typically playful, frequently sardonic, constantly shapeshifting series of themes that reflect on childhood, adolescence and eventually the surreal daily grind of being a busy Brooklyn musician. They’re playing the album release show on Jan 22 at 8 PM at Mezzrow; cover is $20.

The opening number, Adult Joe, sets the stage: looping piano figures spiced with bass and drum flourishes spiral outward, with echoes of Monk, Philip Glass and Russian Romanticism. Theme for Gloomy Bear, dedicated to a giant pink stuffed animal, opens with a predictable but irresistible quote, then Fox builds from a suspensefully hypnotic crescendo toward a more emphatic rhythmic drive, taking his time as Goldman mists the windows with his cymbals. The bass leaps as the piano lingers; Steely Dan comes to mind for a flash or two; Fox hints at sharp-fanged boogie-woogie but never goes there.

Jewish Cowboy (the Real Josh Geller) is even more surreal, a minor-key bluegrass romp syncopatedly warped into piano jazz, with even more vivid Donald Fagen echoes. A puckishly suspenseful bass/drums vista interrupts the revelry, then they’re off again.

Fox’s talents are not confined to the piano: as a gradeschooler, he was a champion ice cream eater, memorialized in Cookie Puss Prize, a surprisingly moody, insistently looping ballad, Goldman putting the icing on the cake (sorry, couldn’t resist) as phrases wind up. Could Goldman’s droll kitchen-sink solo signal the end of a ten-year-old’s dreary schoolday and the top popping off an industrial-size Carvel drum?

Truant was composed on the fly, and on the sly, dodging college security in vacant but off-limits practice rooms. This brooding micro-suite shifts from neoromantic lustre to gently tumbling phrases and more of the cell-like riffs Fox returns to throughout the album.

Caterpillar Serenade references the toy accordion Fox’s brother played for him on the occasion of his sixth birthday, although the song is hardly blithe, music-box ambience interchanging with a starkly bluesy, emphatic drive. The wryly titled, expansive Preamble gives the whole ensemble a chance to methodically survey their surroundings through matter-of-fact metric shifts and hints of Monk.

With its bounding, hard-hitting riffage from piano and bass, Fat Frog – another 80s frozen food reference – brings to mind a leaner kind of amphibian. The bass propels a jaunty tiptoe swing that veers toward ragtime: gotta get to the Mister Softee truck before it closes!

Emotional Baggage Carousel, inspired by a New York airport incident, goes bouncing round and round in a kaleidoscope of emotions that ripple toward stern and Tschaikovskian: is that the bag? Nope. Over there? Umm…Or maybe this is the baggage, with accents and energy from all over the world, doing the talking.

The album closes with Old Wash World, a shout-out to Fox’s local laundromat. dancing along over an altered stride lefthand. His laundromat fixation is common for New Yorkers: those places can be dear to our hearts. In the pre-internet era, a future daily New York music blog proprietor relished the chance to do laundry because that was the only place in the neighborhood where a portable radio could pull jazz station WBGO. And Brooklyn jazz hotspot Barbes occupies a former laundromat space.

Jose Fajardo, Jr. y Sus Estrellas Give a Hot Kickoff to This Year’s Monthly Latin Dance Party Series at Lincoln Center

Lincoln Center’s Viviana Benitez didn’t waste any words introducing Jose Fajardo, Jr. y Sus Estrellas to inaugurate this year’s edition of the monthly Vaya 63 dance party series this past evening. The eleven-piece oldschool Cuban-style charanga also let the music do the talking, sending more than one shout-out to Puerto Rico throughout two tirelessly undulating sets. Now based in Florida, the bandleader continues a tradition that his famous dad began about seventy years ago. With a mix of familiar and often iconic material, they turned the atrium dancefloor into a Cuba, or a Spanish Harlem, of the mind, four decades ago, sounding as fresh as you possibly want on a January night.

The eleven-piece, oldschool Cuban-style charanga had the dancers out in full force with the first tumbling chords of the piano. They began with a brief bounce through his famous dad’s theme song. Transcending the deep-freeze outside, they followed with a long romp through Muñequita, first recorded by the senior Fajardo in Cuba and re-recorded for Fania in the 60s. Trills and flutters from the flute and violin and no-nonsense guy/girl vocals from Fajardo and his sister Ines pulsed hypnotically, working the crowd with a catchy Guantanera style hook and a final trick ending.

They broke down the indomitably, clave-fueled minor-key anthem after that with a lushy, swoony interlude where the pianist suddenly hit his string synth patch in tandem with the violins before leaping back in, Fajardo taking a long, serpentine break on timbales. His sister brought a simmering intensity to a moody, wounded, bolero-tinged ballad – nobody would have known this was the first time she ever sang it live if she hadn’t told the crowd that afterward.

“An oldie but a goodie,” said Fajardo Jr. as the band launched into a singalong Guantanamo, whose hints of Veracruz folk wafting across the water to Cuba gave way to an expansive, emphatic, leaping violin solo midway through and then a big timbales/cowbell break that was just as epic. The clave got more intense behind the moody flute and edgy flamenco-flavored violin break on the next number.

And that was just the first set. Anchored by fat bass and the incisive piano over a mesmerizing percussive groove, the band wound their way through slinky cha-cha and more hyper, leaping rhythms as the crowd twirled and shot video. If you’d been there, you probably would have done the same. 

The next dance party at Lincoln Center’s atrium space just north of 62nd St. on Broadway is Jan 26 at 7:30 PM with Burnt Sugar playing a tribute to the livewire 70s Dayton, Ohio funk scene, featuring songs by the Ohio Players, Lakeside and more. Admission is free; get there early if you’re going.

The Fearlessly Relevant Kath Bloom Returns to a Favorite Brooklyn Haunt

Since the 70s, songwriter Kath Bloom has enjoyed a devoted cult following, especially among her colleagues. Her influence can be heard in the work of artists as diverse as Carol Lipnik and Larkin Grimm; both Linda Draper and Rose Thomas Bannister cite Bloom as an important early discovery. Beyond the reverence of her fellow songwriters, what’s most astonishing is that Bloom may be at her creative peak at this point, even with a vast back catalog of eighteen previous albums. Her voice may have weathered somewhat, but her writing is more harrowing and unflinchingly direct than ever. She’s making a stop at her favorite intimate Greenpoint venue, Troost on Jan 21 at around 9.

Her latest album This Dream of Life is streaming at her audio page. The sound is more full and lush than you would expect from a simple blend of acoustic and electric guitars: Red House Painters’ Mark Kozelek is there to parse the tunes, with frequent contributions from Avi Buffalo and Imaad Wasif.

The catchy, propulsive, anthemically bluesy title track, which could easily be a Draper number, opens the album:

Someone’s stepping on the gas
Someone’s crawling up your ass
Everybody wants to go back…
We’re all crying in our cage
We’re all using half our brains
Don’t you wanna be free?
Someone says we’re getting out
Tell me what it’s all about
Everybody’s lying to me
This dream of life is not for the faint of heart…

Then Bloom gets political in the second verse. It’s hard to think of a more aptly bleak, wintry commentary on our times.

The  intricately fingerpicked, country-tinged lullaby I Bring the Rains is 180 degrees the opposite. Then Bloom finds middle ground over a lively country gospel-inspired bounce in the death-fixated Reminds Me of It.

The lush, psychedelic sweep of At Last contrasts with Bloom’s starkly plainspoken, lamentful lyrics. The guys in the band add moody, gospel-tinged harmonies in the methodically swaying Oh Baby. With its surreal litany of images, the catchy, echoey Changing Horses in Mid Stream is Bloom at her aphoristic best: this caustic kiss-off anthem could be her Positively 4th Street.

This Love Has Got a Mind of Its Own makes a return to enigmatic psychedelic folk, the guitars rising to a jaggedly majestic peak. Bloom keeps that hazily lingering atmosphere going through the anxious I Just Can’t Make It Without You, then flips the script with the playfully edgy symbolism of the aptly titled retro 60s folk-pop of Let’s Get Going:

Come on, you Southern
And Northern
Maybe we can meet in the middle
Look around you
Doesn’t it astound you
Or maybe you recognize it a little?

Cold & Windy is as tremulous as its title, but also hopeful. Bloom examines good intentions gone drastically off the rails in How Can I Make It Up to You?, probably the only song ever to rhyme “drama with “Dalai Lama.” She closes this sometimes devastatingly straightforward album with Baby I’m the Dream You Had: “Though you don’t remember, this happened to you,” Bloom reminds.

Nuclear Family Fantasy Bring Their Scorching, Cynical, Catchy Songs to Williamsburg

Nuclear Family Fantasy play heavy, punk-inspired rock with catchy, anthemic hooks and a great sense of humor. Frontwoman Mossy Ross is a one-woman wrecking crew: she plays both bass and drums and is also a first-rate singer, with an understatedly pissed-off, chilly delivery. William Wilcox handles lead and rhythm guitars with equal parts punk snarl and metal slash. They’ve got a couple of Williamsburg gigs coming up, on Jan 19 at 9:45 PM at the Gutter in Williamsburg for $5 and then on the 25th at 10 at Diviera Drive, 131 Berry St (N 6/7th Sts).

Their debut album is streaming at Bandcamp. The opening track is Everybody Loves You When They’re Drunk: #bestsongtitleever, right? Ross cynically fills in every detail in a dead-end life, desperate to get out: “This is the place great minds go to meet…getting thrown to the wolves without being thrown a bone…” Wilcox’s solo out matches Ross’ withering commentary.

The duo go in a stoner boogie direction in Done, which sounds like a heavier Spanking Charlene. It’s easy to see where this one comes from: the album is inspired by a dysfunctional relationship where the guy went AWOL and remains on the missing persons list more than a year later.

Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda is faster, with an acidic early Siouxsie new wave feel. Anger Hangs On Her has an icy, implied ba-bump groove, Ross painting a picture of the kind of barfly girl we all know medicating herself to passout point. Ross hits some neat syncopation in the more low-key Left Me Lonely Again; the album winds up with Ross’ heaviest and most rhythmically tricky number, So Many Maybes Ago. An awful lot of people are going to relate to these gloomy, doomed, but indomitably catchy songs.

Globalfest 2018: The Best Ever?

Yeah, Globalfest this year was cold. But it’s winter. Judging from the number of midwestern and Canadian accents in the crowd last night, an awful lot of people at this year’s annual festival of sounds from around the world are on familiar terms with it. At this point in history we should be grateful that anything approximating winter still exists.

And it was reassuring to see such great throngs of people coming out on what might have been the coldest night of the year to see music from shithole countries. Neither of the two nations officially designated as shitholes by the Oval Office – El Salvador and Haiti – were represented among the dozen acts on the bill. But Iran has been on a White House shitlist for a long time, Cuba for far longer. And by today’s White House standards (if not tomorrow’s), the cities of New Orleans and Detroit can’t be far behind. So a lineup, which by European standards would have made for a good, solidly eclectic summer festival bill, was positively subversive here in the US in 2018.

Mohsen Namjoo set the bar impossibly high for the rest of the night, opening up the evening with his Persian rock band at the Liberty Theatre stage on the south side of 42nd Street. How did the Iranian setar lute player handle singing to an audience of non-Farsi speakers? Mostly by just vocalizing. “Understand it as sound,” he said with a sardonic wink to the crowd jammed at the front of the stage. Which is a step outside the box for a guy known for his incendiary lyrics.

He’s been called the Iranian Bob Dylan, although Tom Waits is a better comparison – and Namjoo rocks a lot harder than both of those guys put together. Showing off every octave of his formidable range, he prowled from gritty lows to overtone-enhanced highs, evoking a ney flute during one long interlude. His snarling band – lead guitar, bass and drums – made fanged Iranian art-rock out of Metallica, and took innumerable twists and turns through a dynamic mix of multi-part epics in 5/4, 7/4 and 11/4.

Namjoo, who has a withering sense of humor, cynically dismissed the American fixation with four-on-the-floor rhythms. His funniest moment of the night was when he played sarcastic bebop on his setar and scatted – after opening the song with a plaintive, haunting, spacious minor-key lute intro.

Later in the night there were similarly spectacular vocals from Georgia’s Iberi Choir, who are not only a choral ensemble but what could be termed an acoustic psychedelic folk band. Georgian harmonies are unlike music from anywhere else on the globe, with plenty of uneasy adjacencies but not the microtones of Middle Eastern or Balkan music. There was a brooding sensibility throughout much of the group’s set, and also a relentless, sometimes hypnotic intensity, alluding to but never hitting the kind of big minor-key crescendo you might expect from, say, Russian music.

Like Namjoo, the group members all seem to have impressive range, leaping far from monklike gothic lows within thirty seconds of the start of the set. The group’s instrumental chops were also as gripping as their vocals. Throughout a mix of dance numbers, Central Asian field hollers, laments and celebrations, various subsets of the ensemble would move to the front, accompanying themselves on a variety of lutes. In the most spectacular moment of the entire evening, the group leader played jaunty harmonies on two wood flutes at once and didn’t miss a note.

Across the street at Lucille’s, Brazilian rock singer Ava Rocha led her wickedly psychedelic four-piece band through a deliciously acidic, unpredictably shapeshifting set. South of the border, the 80s are still very much alive, but in a much darker way than they are here. American indie bands tend to ape the blithest, poppiest side of the Cure or New Order; down there, the sound tends to be much darker. Rocha’s mask finally came off three songs into her set. By then, the band had prowled through enigmatic early 80s Souxsie terrain, then a hypnotic series of interludes that were best appreciated as a contiguous whole rather than individual songs.

Tightly and methodically, the band negotiated sharp-fingernailed no wave, clenched-teeth Gang of Four skronk and insistently pulsing postrock interludes, the Telecaster player often hanging on the same tense, unresolved hook for what seemed minutes on end, at a couple of points switching to mini-synth for a series of woozy, warpy textures. The other Fender player handled the more aggressive, jagged lines over the rhythm section’s relentless drive. Rocha’s moody mezzo-soprano made a strong match with the songs’ often pained intensity, another case of many this evening where the mood of the music transcended any linguistic barrier.

That was most vividly the case in singer Eva Salina’s rapturous set of music from across the Balkans, in a rising and falling intimate duo set with her longtime accordionist Peter Stan. Where he’d animated a big ballroom full of dancers at Golden Fest a couple of nights before with his whirlwind arpeggios, cascades and looming low pulse, this time he fired off bright rivet-gun staccato riffs and similarly nimble spirals when he wasn’t lowlighting the sadder numbers.

Which would eventually go in all sorts of different directions. Eva Salina reminded the crowd that there’s a little bit of sadness – and happiness too – in pretty much everything, varying her delivery from delicate microtonal nuance, to lustrously sustained midrange, to lively, bounding passages. A handful of numbers – including a surreal tale of a drunk trying (or not trying) to pull his life together, and a bouncy celebration of a rotund little bride who’s eventually going to bear nine children – were taken from the catalog of legendary Romany crooner Saban Bajrmovic. Salina’s forthcoming album mines a completely different repertoire, that of the tragic but indomitable chanteuse Vida Pavlovic, most poignantly exemplified by a couple of ballads about abandonment – with and without children.

Finally, as midnight approached, it was time to move next door to B.B. King’s, the biggest room at this this year’s festival, for Mariachi Flor de Toloache. Where Eva Salina had been all about subtlety, New York’s only all-female mariachi band were all about fire and drama, breathtaking vocal acrobatics and audience participation. Bandleader Mireya Ramos played nimble basslines on her guitarron but saved her most spectacular chops for violin, in a sizzling solo during the night’s final cumbia. Her counterpart on tenor guitar also showed off a sensational top range during an unexpected and wildly successful detour into noir soul- somewhere Amy Winehouse is very jealous. With two trumpets, soaring violin and balmy flute, the group made their way through a defiant shout-out to Puerto Rico, a handful of rhythmically tricky, punchy dance numbers and a droll medley that quoted Led Zep along with other more snarky riffs.

Serendipitously, there was less of a need to triage this year than at past festivals. The only major disappointments were missing Miramar – who are playing Barbes tonight, Jan 15, at 9 – and also Indian carnatic hip-hop duo Grand Tapestry, who if they played at all, were done by half past midnight. And it would have been a lot of fun to see the whole set by slinky, shuffling New Orleans trio Delgres, who with slide guitar, sousaphone and drums played a kinetically hypnotic mashup of Mozambiquean duskcore over New Orleans-tinged rhythms. It was akin to watching Tinariwen playing R.L. Burnside tunes – with a fat low end that frequently bubbled over with distortion.

And what a difference a venue makes. What a pleasant change to see the calm, comfortable faces of the staff at B.B. King’s instead of the paranoid stares of the goons at Webster Hall, a place where just getting inside felt like trying to break into Riker’s Island. Even as transcendent as many of the past fifteen years’ worth of Globalfest lineups could be, being treated like a criminal from the git-go always leaves a bad taste.

But revenge is sweet. At Globalfest 2013, a daily New York music blog proprietor managed to sneak two bottles of wine through Webster Hall’s security gauntlet. Not to drink there – to take home afterward, and carry out through that same exit door, a raised middle finger to every little Hitler in the house.

The Myrrors Bring Their Dusky, Pulsing Psychedelic Postrock to a Killer Alphabet City Twinbill

It’s not clear what the title of hypnotically kinetic psychedelic band the Myrrors’ latest record Hasta La Victoria – streaming at Bandcamp –  refers to. Whatever the case, it’s definitely a victory for the band themselves. The Arizona-based group went their separate ways around the turn of the past decade, but regrouped in the wake of ongoing youtube popularity. If there’s any need for further proof of the eternal viability of good psychedelic music, this is it. The Arizona collective are headlining a killer twinbill on Jan 20 at Berlin at around 9; Eno-esque ambient soundscaper J.R. Bohannon a.k.a. Ancient Ocean opens the night at 8. Cover is $10.

The album is a mix of hypnotic, circling epics and shorter numbers. The methodically swaying, ten-minute opening instrumental, Organ Mantra has a simple call-and-response sax loop front and center while the guitars of Cesar Alatorre-Mena and Nik Rayne build a dense wall behind it, and finally join the conversation. Meanwhile, Kellen Fortier‘s bass and Grant Beyschau’s drums bubble above the surface.

Awash in reverb, Somos La Resistencia sounds like Mogwai covering White Rabbit, with a squalling sax solo on the way out. From there the band segues into Tea House Music, with its echoing rainy-day rise and fall, distantly thundering percussion, plaintive twelve-string guitar hooks and echoes of Joy Division.

El Aleph, an ominous string soundscape, has distantly Indian-flavored overtones and melismatics. It’s a good intro for the mammoth title track, a dense, grey swirl and eventual flurry of instruments slowly coalescing around a central loop much like the album’s first number. This is the furthest from rock the band’s ever gone, and the trippiest destination they’ve found so far on a sonic journey that promises to discover newer depths and more enigmatically remote destinations.

Don’t Sleep on Opening Night of Golden Fest

Tonight, Jan 13 starting at around 6 PM is when the charming, spacious old Grand Prospect Hall in south Park Slope turns into a mobscene, the dancefloor of the big ballroom a tsunami of line dancers, with about eighty Balkan bands in various rooms throughout the old mansion. But as opening night of this year’s Golden Fest proved, the kids have gotten wise to night one of the United States’ largest festival of Balkan music (Golden Fest is all-ages). Last night there were only six bands – a small lineup, by Golden Fest’s titanic standards – but the show was every bit as adrenalizing.

In general, there seemed to be more of a younger contingent than ever before. Some of that crowd has roots in the Balkan Camp summer phenomenon, but a lot of the high school age posse appeared to be there strictly for thrills. Oa night when trains out of Brooklyn were a mess, in an era when venues are closing one after the other and everybody’s working twice as many hours for half the money, that the festival’s attendance would be growing speaks for itself.

The most memorable song of the night appeared early, during the dance lesson. That’s right – show up late and you might miss the high point of the evening .Zlatne Uste, Golden Fest’s house band and one of the very first Serbian-style brass groups in this country, played that number, gathered on the dancefloor in a semicircle. If a rock band had been playing its gorgeously bittersweet changes as the horns pulsed through the chorus, it would have been Nashville gothic. Was Roy Orbison a Balkan music fan? Did he even have access to it?

Likewise, the night’s most entrancing song sounded like a more lush if less echoey version of the verse in the Smiths’ How Soon Is Now.  With a misty mesh of tambura lutes, Zavaba played that one. Was Johnny Marr into Macedonian epics? It would seem so. Before that number, the six-piece group romped through tricky tempos and bouncy vamps that suddenly veered into darker territory and then back, with the same unpredictability. Their clarinetist doubled on trumpet, with similar edge and bite; bassist Adam Good gave the songs a sinewy slink often missing when American four-string guys tackle this kind of music.

Paul Brown’s basslines in the irresistibly named Pontic Firebird  were much the same, a low-register counterpart to violinist/frontwoman Beth Bahia Cohen’s fearsome, microtonal leaps and whirls and volleys. Bulgarian band Cherven Traktor‘s gadulka fiddler Nikolai Kolev pushed even further into the badlands beckoning beyond the ordinary western scale while his wife, singer Donka Koleva sliced through the mix with a feral precision.

By now, the first-timers had pretty much left the dancefloor to the pros – and there were a lot of pros. People lined up for the buffet (food is included in the price of a ticket) and eventually returned with heaping plates of pickles and stewed vegetables and sausage. Singer Eva Salina and accordion sorcerer Peter Stan had played the first official set of the night, but Zlatna Uste, Cherven Traktor and Pontic Firebird had warmed up the dancers to the point that all the duo had to do was keep the festivities going, and they did. The two are best known for plaintive, moody, sometimes heartbreaking Romany songs, but this was the party set, anchored by Stan’s powerful lefthand while his right ran supersonic filigrees and rapidfire staccato phrases. Drinking and gambling featured prominently in the lyrics: Eva Salina coyly supplied the gist of the songs for the linguistically challenged.

Kavala Brass Band headlined. Night two of Golden Fest is where you can sample as many bands as you can handle, many of them from around the world. Night one is allstar night, the OG’s of the global Balkan scene.  These people have been doing it for years and know every trick in the book. They make exotic beats sound completely natural (which they are, for cultures outside of the US) and can pull an adrenaline rush out of thin air. With electric bass supplying a fat bottom end and the accordion out front, Kavala Brass Band brought to mind Tipsy Oxcart, another recent Golden Fest standout. Blazing and then backing away, through a catchy, anthemic series of minor keys and chromatics, they were arguably the night’s most accessible act – or at least tied with Zlatne Uste – and sent the crowd home pumped up for night two. See you in the atrium, to the right of the big ballroom and past the kitchen, at about six!

An Alphabet City Psychedelic Twinbill to Get Lost In On the 20th

Guitarist J.R. Bohannon a.k.a. Ancient Ocean’s latest album Titan’s Island – streaming at Bandcamp – was inspired by the Cassini spacecraft’s observations of Titan, the moon of Saturn. That’s 90% of what you need to know.

Here’s the other ten. The most obvious reference points for the ambient composer’s immersive, echoey soundscapes are Eno and Laaraji, which testifies to the album’s tunefulness and dynamics. It opens with the title track, slowly rising out of a hazy wash with elegantly pulsing steel guitar, echoing BJ Cole’s memorable work on the live remake of Eno’s Icebreaker album. The epic, almost fifteen-minute Casssini-Huygens is a slowly crescendoing, kaleidoscopic series of layers methodically filtering through the mix, rising to an  unexpectedly catchy, recurrent four-note riff; then the steel guitar enters gracefully. Bohannon takes his time using pretty much every pedal on his board.

Rift Valleys is all about floating, slowly oscillating, glacially tectonic shifts, again with stately steel accents spicing the mix as Bohannon builds momentum. The final track, Life at the Surface has slightly more organic textures including facsimiles of accordion, cello and high strings – as you would expect from life on other planets, or orbiting them, right? 

Ancient Ocean opens a killer psychedelic twinbill on Jan 20 at 8 PM at Berlin; the pounding but similarly hypnotic, trippy Myrrors headline afterward. Cover is ten bucks for the best super spaceout night of the month.