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Category: balkan music

Another Gorgeously Cinematic New Mix of Accordion and Piano Jazz From Ben Rosenblum

Ben Rosenblum is one of the most electrifyingly eclectic voices in jazz. He’s as adrenalizing an accordionist as he is a pianist, but his strongest suit ultimately is his compositions. His earlier ones can be hard to find, but one place you can find him is at Smalls on March 2 where he’s playing the album release show for his new one A Thousand Pebbles – streaming at Spotify – with his brilliant Nebula Project septet. Sets are at 7:30 and around 9; cover is $25 cash at the door.

The opening tune, Catamaran, takes awhile to get going, but when it does, it’s breathtaking. Trumpeter Wayne Tucker hits a tantalizingly fleeting chromatic passage, with the bandleader, bassist Marty Jaffe and drummer Ben Zweig build a bustling high-seas tableau. Rosenblum switches to accordion for a spiritedly goofy Irish jig of an outro.

He sticks with that instrument over guitarist Rafael Rosa’s pulse in Bulgares while the band build an increasingly complex web of gorgeous Balkan tonalities, the wicked spirals of the accordion in contrast with the blistering conversation between Rosa and Tucker. It’s one of the best track released in 2023 so far.

The album’s title suite begins with a sentimental chorale between Tucker and saxophonists Jasper Dutz and Xavier Del Castillo. The second movement, Road to Recollection, is a genial, brassy swing tune where the ensemble sounds twice as large as they are behind Rosenblum’s piano rivulets, punches and pointillisms. Backward masked patches signal the segue to The Gathering, a spacious, increasingly acidic, moody accordion jazz tune that strongly evokes the Claudia Quintet, a calmly biting sax solo at the center and another electrifying Tucker solo on the way out.

Rosenblum opens the conclusion, Living Streams, with spare, wary gospel piano, Rosa and the horns enhancing the hymnal ambience as they bring the suite full circle.

Bookended with Jaffe’s somber, bowed bass, The Bell from Europe – a post WWII reflection on the legacy of violence – couldn’t be more relevant. Tucker’s solemn solo rises in tandem with the horns over a funereal pulse as the music brightens, Rosa channeling a sobering angst along with melancholy, chugging bass to remind that too little has changed since 1945.

The band pick up the pace with The Village Steps, Rosenblum’s pensive, pastoral accordion sailing over a churning, altered samba groove. The turn into shadowy noir with Lilian, a portrait of a femme fatale, is deliciously, understatedly lurid, with eerie reverb guitar, smoky horns, suspiciously genial bass clarinet from Dutz, a slithery bass solo, and enigmatically circling piano worthy of a classic Johnny Mandel theme from the 50s.

They reinvent Jobim’s Song of the Sabia as jaunty forro jazz with Rosenblum’s accordion at the center over the horns’ lustre: imagine Forro in the Dark at their most lithe and animated. Rosenblum closes with Implicit Attitude, a supple swing tune that looks back to Gil Evans-era Miles with simmering solos from Del Castillo’s tenor sax, Tucker’s muted trumpet and Dutz’s dynamically leaping bass clarinet. This rich and vastly diverse album deserves consideration for best jazz record of 2023.


Best Ever Playlist on this Page?

It’s been a month since there’s been a playlist of singles on this page, and this might be the best of them all. As usual, click on artist names for their webpages, click on titles for audio, video or just a good visual joke (if there’s no title link, just click on the artist).

Here’s something beautiful and brilliant to inspire you: a 12-year-old British girl absolutely destroys the WEF’s 15-minute city prison concept. Scroll down to the last video, via Tessa Lena‘s must-read investigative and philosophical Substack.

Tessa is also a brilliant and haunting singer, and she’s finally released a new single, Hovin Mernem, an old Armenian folk song on a familiar theme of missing someone who’s gone over the mountains, maybe never to be seen again (scroll down to the bottom of the page).

It’s amazing how much good music you find in random moments on the web. This nameless Australian choir turns in a heartwarming version of the Staples Singers’ Just Another Soldier in the Army of Love.

Strong early contender for best song of 2023: Balcony, by moody, jangly, coldly new wave-flavored Brooklyn band Nostranders.

You have to watch Pussy Riot‘s new single Putin’s Ashes closely to appreciate this stately chorale. Rough translation: “Sharpening a knife for Putin, I will not forgive your evil.”

The Oracle Sisters’ Tramp Like You is surreal Lynchian glam-soul; if Bowie did a song for Blue Velvet, it might have sounded like this

Ladytron‘s new single City of Angels features chill robotic vocals over a surprisingly warmly orchestrated backdrop

A clear voice searching for more clarity in a hypnotic, slide guitar-driven Americana anthem: Megan Brickwood‘s Trinity River Blues

Novelist and mighty memestress Amy Sukwan shares California license plate 3JOH22A (scroll midway down the page)

This video by Japanese folk-punk duo Ki & Ki has been around awhile, but it’s a good segue, an otherworldly and rather stern march played in perfect sync on twin shamisen lutes.

Now, because music doesn’t exist in a vacuum, things are going to get dark, but everything ends on a positive note. First, Texas Lindsay shows how Japanese excess mortality correlates to Covid injection uptake, over a shamanic taiko drum rhythm. 1 minute 15 second video via freedom fighter Super Sally in the Philippines (scroll down to middle of the page)

Here’s an eerily prophetic hip-hop joint from 2012: Dr. Creep‘s Pandemic (via Lioness of Judah‘s excellent daily news feed)

Begin life in a lab in the first war of vaccines
Million die in the first week in the pandemic dreams…
Flu-shot propaganda for all population and troops
Avoid the plague; it might have seeped into the room….
This isn’t past tense or the plague of Athens
Couldn’t be eradicated like smallpox in action
Avian influenza in the jetstream is how it happens
2020 combined with coronavirus, bodies stacking

Scott Ralley gives us Freedom, his latest reggae-rap protest song via novelist Margaret Anna Alice‘s brilliant piece on fence-riders

Speaking of riding the fence and jersey-switching, cartoonist Anne Gibbons asks “How do we get you back onboard,” via Dr. Meryl Nass (who is doing a hilariously acerbic liveblog of this week’s ACIP meetings)

Let’s end this on a redemptive and unselfconsciously funny note with Naomi Wolf’s venomous response to the recent New York Times attempt to slowly backwalk their longtime and ludicrous Covid fearmongering. Anyone who was banned from a bar or any other venue, or lost their job because of lockdown restrictions will relish this. Start this video excerpt from her latest book The Bodies of Others at 3:49:

“Closing restaurants and bars was strategic. The goal of these oligarchs who wanted to make war on humanity especially want to make war on community. People can communicate and share and compare their truths and experiences when they’re in a bar or a restaurant….and learn for themselves that there was a life to be had outside of lockdowns and outside of Covid hysteria, which turned out to be predicated on pretty much no solid evidence, as this book demonstrates. The New York Times killed people, they were driven to lives of despair…they crushed the dreams of a hundred thousand restaurant owners…They killed cultures, they killed neighborhoods, and all on the basis of a lie.”

Electrifying New Sounds in Balkan and Turkish Music at an Unexpected Brooklyn Spot

Lots of positive developments in this city lately. Lethal injection requirements, which were illegal on face value, are being dropped as pressure on the Mayor’s office increases. Of course, odious WEF puppet Eric Adams had to stick to the script and hint that more lockdowns will be coming whenever the monsters pulling Bill Gates’ strings give the sign. That’s where our resistance has to be fierce and decisive.

In the meantime, another sign that we are headed in the right direction is that new bands are springing up: who would have thought, thirty-five months ago? One of the most interesting and unorthodox of the bunch is the Sedi Donka Balkan Band, who with two electric guitars, two violins, bass and percussion, put an electric edge on an eclectic mix of tunes from Eastern Europe and the Near East. Their arrangements sometimes reflect the group’s members’ background in Romany swing music. Their next gig is on Feb 17 at 10 PM at St. Mazie’s, the shi-shi oldtimey-themed Williamsburg bar/restaurant that took over the old Rose Bar space where Grand Street deadends over the BQE. It’s a pass-the-bucket situation; the venue is about equidistant from the L at Bedford and the J/M at Marcy.

The band – violinists Adrien Chevalier and Antoine Thouvenin, guitarists Michael Valeanu and Taulant Mehmeti, bassist Julian Smith and percussionist Nezih Antakli – don’t have any albums out yet, but they have a handful of tracks up at their youtube channel. Some of this material is brass-band or clarinet music, so these new versions are fresh and counterintuitive.

The first of the youtube clips is a precise, swaying romp through Turkish star Selim Sesler’s deliciously chromatic Kasap Havasi. The next tune is a surreal, harmonically shapeshifting Romanian tune, Hora Stoican, by Ion Petre Stoican.

Brilliant accordionist Vitor Gonzalves joins them on a blast through the trickily rhythmic Bulgarian tune Gankino Oro. The violinists kick off the traditional dance Makedonsko Devojče with some icepick pizzicato before launching into the tightly interwoven harmonies.

The last of the clips is a vintage tune by Romanian accordion legend Marcel Budală, Hora de la Urziceni, the group joining forces seamlessly throughout the song’s shivery minor-key riffage. Let’s hope we get more from this innovative new crew in the months ahead.

Winding Up 2022 With Stunning Beauty, Sheer Horror and Defiant Fun

In late 2021, this blog predicted that 2022 would be a much better year. For those who survived it, chances are it was. Here’s another prediction: good things are snowballing, and 2023 will be even better (or less lethal, depending on how you see it). The world is largely going to refuse the destruction of the cash economy, the forced implementation of digital coupons in place of money, and social credit scores. Big Finance will throw Big Pharma under the bus in a hail mary attempt to stay in power, but that won’t be enough. As control structures collapse, we will see whistleblowers and data leaks emerge from unexpected places. It is going to be an epic year.

Let’s look forward to that with a final collection of songs and visuals from 2022. As usual, click on artist names for their webpages, click on titles for watchable and listenable stuff.

At the top of the list, an absolutely harrowing painting, Apocalypse, from the brilliant artist Sasha Latypova, who is better known as a sharp-eyed analyst of Department of Defense biomedical crimes. As far as the apocalypse is concerned, Latypova reassures us that “I do not believe we are living through the real-deal one, only a theatrical performance scripted to look like one. It is fundamentally a bluff by a desperate (small) clique of deeply evil monsters. Do not fall for it.”

Another important investigative journalist and researcher who emerged in the spring of 2020, Tessa Lena is also a singer. She’s released a breathtaking new single, Kanchun Em, going to to the top of her stratospheric register for an impassioned take of this haunting old Armenian folk song, backed by elegant guitar, duduk and what sounds like a pandura.

On the baffling, creepy side, Andreas Oehler catches Tedros on camera: “Some Countries Are Using to Give Boosters to Kill Children.” ?!?!?! Is this a CYA move? By the way, these countries are Canada, the USA and Japan. “A small club,” as Oehler puts it.

For a world-class statistician unpacking global mortality data, Joel Smalley has a great sense of humor, and makes the occasional hilarious video. This is not one of the funny ones. It’s 1 minute 38 seconds of the Chopin Funeral March with graphics of a holocaust  unfolding over time.

Nicole Sirotek of America’s Frontline Nurses explains the difference between remdesivir and veklury, which is being offered to hospital patients who refuse “rundeathisnear.” Crucial information. 48 sec video via Karen Bracken‘s must-read Truth Bomb newsfeed.

Now let’s have some fun. Scroll to the bottom of this page for memestress and author Amy Sukwan‘s Pfizer rewards card.

Can you play the flute wearing two surgical masks? Super Sally in the Philippines shares this surreal, sick visual

The ThinkTwice Team specialize in memes that make fun of lockdowner propaganda posters. Abir Ballan, Andrea Bowler, David Charalambous & Sinéad Stringer are relentlessly funny and have a whole page of priceless parodies, with more on the way!

Here’s an intriguing new take on a classic album cover: Patrick Killelea‘s Sgt Pfizer’s Lonely Heart Clot Band

Visceral Adventure‘s Sayin’ a Lie is a snarky remake of a big BeeGees disco hit, frontwoman Tonika Todorova channeling calm defiance in a world where she’s “Got a dirty mask stuck on my shoe, and the nurses dancing in the ICU.”

Mark Oshinskie, one of the most painterly writers in the freedom movement, is also a punk rock songwriter. Don’t Gotta Go to Disney has one of the funniest videos in recent memory. Check out the shrine to the rat…and the other rat stuff.

Let’s wrap up the year with everybody’s favorite insane clown, Doctor Dr. McHonk-Honk doing Auld Jab Syne via Jeff Childers’ C&C News (scroll all the way down the page). Jeff’s provocative analysis of plandemic planning is also worth reading. Thanks to everybody, especially all you subscribers, for your support over the years and through this ordeal and see you next year!

A Triumphant Return For Gorgeous Accordion and Accordion-Adjacent Sounds at Bryant Park

Last night at Bryant Park marked the very welcome return of the annual accordion festival there. At its pre-2020 peak, the festival ran weekly over a month or more beginning in late summer. This year’s installment mirrored the wild eclecticism and thrills that organizer Ariana Hellerman programmed there until the fateful events of 2020.

“Ultimately this is about love,” she told the crowd before the show, acknowledging New York’s debt to the immigrant communities who share her appreciation for portable keyed reed instruments. She’d begun programming the festival ten years ago after returning from Colombia, where she’d fallen in love with vallenato. “I’d never seen the accordion as revered as it was in Colombia. People would play air accordion in the streets.”

Heart of Afghanistan opened this year’s mainstage concert with a brooding anthem, frontman/harmonium player Ahmad Fanoos singing with a simmering intensity over his pianist son Elham Fanoos’ glittering, neoromantic cascades. It came across as part Bollywood, part Egyptian classical, mirroring the ensemble’s home country’s role as a focal point over centuries of cultural cross-pollination.

They followed with an elegantly syncopated, crescendoing take of a traditional Afghani New Years theme, Mehran Fanoos’ violin soaring distantly over Hamid Habibzada’s tablā. A dramatic, heroic minor-key theme fueled by lickety-split, meticulously ornamented piano and plaintively interwoven violin was next, the bandleader finally rising to an impassioned, melismatic peak.

The central Asian passion continued with an insistently syncopated, chromatically charged number, then the group resurrected the pre-Taliban Afghani national anthem as quasi art-rock with a shivery violin solo: it sure blows away the old drinking song that Francis Scott Key appropriated.

They took a detour into a jaunty ghazal, bouncing along with call-and-response and microtonal violin cadenzas, then a return to pouncing Middle Eastern-inflected modal fire, peaking out with an angst-fueled anthem. Music this gorgeous deserves to be vastly better known.

The Ukrainian Village Voices were next on the bill with an abbreviated set. From their home in the East Village, the rotating cast of this accordion-driven chorale have been New York’s nexus for traditional sounds from that imperiled part of the world.

The multi-generational, dual-gendered ensemble opened with a goofy, rousing, simple tune about harvesting buckwheat and making pancakes which the babushkas they’d met on their 2018 Ukrainian tour had asked them to sing over and over, as one of the group explained to the crowd.

A drinking song with the somber theme of “drink up because we may be gone tomorrow” was next – it came across as more of a work song. Make of that what you will.

They picked up the pace with a bristling, chromatic traditional warrior’s circle dance with violin from one of the chorus and closed with a pulsing party anthem sung from the point of view of a girl who doesn’t want to go home.

Balaklava Blues – a spinoff of fiery Canadian Balkan band the Lemon Bucket Orkestra – were up next. One of the trio’s two violinists – each of whom doubled on drums – built a long, suspenseful, shivery solo over an ominous low drone before accordionist Marichka Marczyk took to the mic with a plaintive, increasingly vocal, in Ukrainian. Her violinist husband Mark’s mask – mouth and nose open, most of the rest of his face obscured – spoke as much truth to power as any of the music on the bill.

Finally, at the end, Marichka switched to English: “Don’t tell me what to do” was the mantra. They followed by making glitchy trip-hop out of a rousing, defiantly stomping, whooping folk tune, like a slightly less thunderous Dakhabrakha. Marichka switched to piano and sang “Give me money or something” in a venomous turbo-folk-trip-hop anthem, with a searing violin solo from her husband.

As she told the crowd, the band’s raison d’etre is “To fight for freedom not only in Ukraine but for democracy all around the world.” Meanwhile, her brother is somewhere on the Ukrainian frontline, fighting off Russian retaliation to the NATO-provoked conflict. No wonder the piercing, angst-fueled art-rock lament that followed was about going home – and the prospect of never being able to. Remaining at the piano, Marichka continued with a slowly crescendoing, eerily chromatic tableau. They built a singalong with the crowd on a similarly macabre-tinged coda, the band’s second violinist echoing Marichka’s shivery, harrowing, imploring voice.

Since this happened to be Mexican independence day, a Selena cover band headlined. This pickup group of A-list New York musicians hail from the worlds of cumbia, Turkish music, klezmer and Americana, among other styles. Sure, it was a tr ip to see Michael Winograd – one of this era’s great klezmer clarinetists – step outside the box and take a turn on go-go sax. Unlike Selena, frontwoman Jenny Luna is a native Spanish speaker, and quickly revealed herself as an infinitely better and more seductive singer. The group were tighter than their debut before the lockdown at a crowded Brooklyn bar, but ultimately, the material wasn’t up to the level of the cast onstage. And that’s when it was time to call it a night.

The next concert at Bryant Park is tonight, Sept 17 at 7 PM with the the American Symphony Orchestra playing music by William Grant Still, Louise Talma and Mahler.

Wild Balkan Brass Icons Slavic Soul Party Stage a Queens Blowout

How cool is it when you find out you were in the crowd when one of your favorite bands was making a a live album? This blog was in the house on August 20, 2019 when Brooklyn’s best-loved Balkan brass band, Slavic Soul Party recorded a handful of tunes which appear on their latest concert record, streaming at Bandcamp.

What was the show like? Blurry. That was one wild night. If you missed it – or the mostly-weekly Tuesday night series in Park Slope that they played for the better part of sixteen years before the 2020 lockdown – you can hear them outdoors on August 2 at 7 PM at Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City. You can take the 7 to Vernon-Jackson, walk to 48th Ave. and take it straight to the river, or take the G to 21st/Van Alst, take 45th Ave. as far toward the water as you can and then make a left.

Back in 2016, Slavic Soul Party put out a deviously erudite Balkan brass remake of Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite, and the opening number, Amad opens this record. Accordionist Peter Stan provides an intro to this version, from March of the following year, launching a suspenseful river of sound, then torrents of chromatics, then the brass kick in over the clip-clip beat of Matt Moran’s bubanj. Tapan drummer Chris Stromquist keeps a slinky groove going on as the horns pulse closer and closer to New Orleans.

Nizo’s Merak, from one of the band’s last pre-lockdown shows there in November, 2019, begins as one of the Balkan/hip-hop mashups they made a name for themselves with and shifts into bracing, chromatic Serbian territory on the wings of a trumpet solo. For a band who had so many members who play in other projects, it’s remarkable how little the lineup has changed over the years. That’s John Carlson and Kenny Warren on trumpets, Peter Hess on sax, Tim Vaughn and Adam Dotson on trombones and Kenny Bentley on tuba.

Considering how much of a party the Tuesday night residency was, the split-second precision of the horns on this July, 2018 version of Balada is pretty amazing, Stan’s liquid accordion lines holding it together. Same with the rapidfire minor-key brass flurries over the subtle side-step rhythm in Romano Pravo, from the March 2017 gig. The tantalizingly brief accordion-and-drums breakdown was always a big audience hit, and this is a prime example.

Truth is one of their rarer, slower, more balmy numbers, Stan methodically working his way from choosing his spots to his usual supersonic pirouettes. The next number, 323 is a showcase for the band’s funkier side. The three tunes from the August 20, 2019 show – Romski Merak, Sing Sing Čoček, and Missy Sa-sa – appear here as an increasingly delirious, roughly seventeen-minute suite that covers pretty much all the bases. Steve Duffy plays tuba here as the band fire off biting doublestops, enigmatic whole-note solos, and a couple of hailstorm drum breaks.

After a brief rat-a-tat “Latino Band Medley,” the band close with FYC, a feast of disquieting Eastern European tonalities with a couple of careening trumpet and trombone solos recorded in July of 2018.

Since these are field recordings that the band released as merch during the time that disgraced ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo had criminalized live music in New York, the sound is on the trebly side, although there surprisingly isn’t a lot of audience noise. At the Queens show, you won’t be able to hear any of the “amazing music that Quince puts on at the end of the night” at the Park Slope gigs, as the group mention on the Bandcamp page. But all New Yorkers will be able to see the show since the bar was weaponized to discriminate against patrons who didn’t take the lethal Covid injection.

Elegantly Exhilarating Klezmer Band Mames Babegenush Make a Welcome Return to Manhattan

Danish klezmer band Mames Babegenush made New York music history a couple of years ago for being part of what appears to have been the final installment of Golden Fest, the annual mega-concert of Balkan and Balkan-adjacent music that ran uninterrupted for more than three decades and was arguably the most exhilarating annual New York music event. The previous weekend, the band had played a marathon series of shows, from the Lower East Side to Curry Hill, chronicled in part here after a wild night at the Carlton Arms Hotel.

For those who can’t get enough of bracing minor keys and sizzling solos, Mames Babegenush are on the road for their “COVID Can’t Keep Klezmer Down” tour, with a gig at Drom on July 20 at 8 PM; you can get in for $20 in advance. And an advance listen to two new tunes the band have recently recorded proves this irrepressible bunch of party animal virtuosos are no worse for the layoff during the global totalitarian takeover. The first song, Elvermose Cocek reminds how much fun they can have with tunes from outside the klezmer demimonce, in this case a pouncing Balkan dance with a gorgeous, soaring solo from clarinetist Emil Goldschmidt.

The second is Night Flight, a gorgeous nocturne which their drummer Morten Aero opens with a mysterious cimbalom solo before bassist Andreas Mollerhoj introduces a tiptoeing pulse, setting the stage for a deep-sky solo from flugelhorn player Bo Rande. That’s the loud and soft of what you can expect from a band whose nine-album output of originals and imaginative takes on klezmer classics includes one titled Klezmer Killed the Radio Star.

The Knights Make History With Beethoven and Janacek at the Naumburg Bandshell

Last night at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park was a welcome return for one of New York’s most enduring cosmopolitan traditions. This was a particularly clever installment. It’s been done before: pairing Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata with Janacek’s String Quartet No. 1, “Kreutzer Sonata.” A Naumburg Concert favorite, chamber orchestra the Knights worked several levels of meta with new symphonic arrangements of both: the former a chart by violinist Colin Jacobsen, the latter a collaboration between his brother Eric and Knights horn player Mike Atkinson.

Orchestral scores for both works go back as far as Tschaikovsky, who did it with Beethoven. Likewise, there have been plenty of programs pairing both of the original pieces. But yesterday evening’s concert might have been the first time two orchestral versions of both have been played on the same bill. It turned out to be as colorful as expected, considering the ensemble’s penchant for surprise.

They opened with a Colin Jacobsen piece, playfully titled Kreutzings, rising from dizzyingly dissociative layers through jaunty microtonal glissandos from around the ensemble, to a coyly contrapuntal waltz. Flickers of each of the night’s main composers bubbled to the surface occasionally as the strings joined in precise, steady eighth notes while winding their way out.

Jacobsen, celebrating his birthday, served as soloist in the Beethoven. Crisp, elegant cheer interchanged with a little suspense and a bustling freshness that veered toward the raw side in the opening movement, confirming how well this material lends itself to orchestral sweep and majesty. Jacobsen quickly went for silkiness and ran with it amid anxious Vivaldiesque counterpoint. The restless thicket of low strings toward the end was a particularly juicy moment for the orchestra to sink their teeth into.

As if by design, a passing airplane introduced the andante second movement, bubbly woodwinds picking up the pace considerably before Jacobsen took over with a fine-toothed staccato. The bristling energy never dissipated, through lushness and a coyly pulsing bounce beneath the violinist’s spirals, flurries and animated pizzicato. Interestingly, the finale was on the spare and restrained side, despite the velocity: an urbane party that earned a contrastingly raucous standing ovation.

After the intermission, the ensemble tackled Anna Clyne’s Stride. Echoing the concert’s opening number, fleeting hints of Beethoven percolated amid tense close harmonies and microtones over a striding tempo flecked with rather suspenseful lulls and a long trajectory up to an anthemic, Dvorakian coda. Clyne doesn’t usually go for fullscale High Romantic: turns out she excels at it. This was a revelation.

Janacek’s first quartet follows the drama and familial mischegas of the Tolstoy tale, giving us an extra level of meta. Furtive Balkan chromatics quickly receded for an aching lushness and unexpected pageantry in the opening movement, only to reappear in a tensely gripping, Bernard Herrmann vein. Giving the anxious conversation in the third movement to the woodwinds paid magnificently poignant dividends on the way to an equally memorable stampede out. The ensemble encored with flutist Alex Sopp leading the group through a lickety-split, buoyant arrangement of a Taraf de Haidoucks Romany dance tune.

For those who missed the concert, the Knights managed to record the Beethoven and Janacek in February 2020, just under the wire before the fateful events that would crush the world a few weeks later. The next Naumburg Bandshell concert is on June 28 at 7:30 PM with the Handel and Haydn Society, led by violinist Aisslinn Nosky, playing works by Corelli, Vivaldi, Geminiani, Handel and Charles Avison.

A Hotrod of a Band Headlines This Year’s Greek Jewish Festival

More about today’s annual Greek Jewish Festival at the Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum at 280 Broome St. in Chinatown: the headliners, Pontic Firebird, hit the stage at 5 PM. Not only do they have one of the coolest bandnames ever, they’re also a party in a box. They play a wildly adrenalizing mix of traditional Greek Mediterranean dance tunes that sometimes echo the eerie chromatics of rembetiko gangster music, and the Smyrnika sounds that permeated the underworld in that part of the globe in the decades after World War I.

This blog most recently caught Pontic Firebird in action at the 2018 edition of Golden Fest, which for years has been arguably the most exciting annual concert in New York (the 2020 edition took place as usual. that January; there was also an abbreviated, outdoor 2021 edition, but none so far this year). You can download the band’s 2018 set there at the recently and unexpectedly restored Free Music Archive, as well as a longer show from four years earlier. Let’s give that one a spin, shall we?

Frontwoman/violinist Beth Bahia Cohen first leads the group through a raw, rustic, trickily rhythmic dance that veers from minor to major and back and sounds more like Greek hill country music than it does Mediterranean. The group members aren’t listed, but there’s also oud, boomy standup drums and bass in the mix.

Oud and violin double the melody line over pouncing syncopation in the next number, followed by a hypnotically loopy one where Cohen goes flying into some spine-tingling spirals when least expected. The fourth track starts starkly and auspiciously and suddenly cuts off – hey, it’s a field recording, that happens sometimes. The group wind up the set – or at least what’s here – with their edgiest, most chromatically bristling number.

The rest of the bands on today’s bill are also excellent. If you can get out of the house early enough, you can catch the whole lineup, which starts at noon with the bouncy Elias Ladino Ensemble, followed by the Greek American Folklore Society band, the Noga Group featuring brilliant oudist Avram Pengas, bellydancer Layla Isis and then psychedelic Middle Eastern oud player and bandleader Scott Wilson & Efendi at 4. Take the B or D to Grand St.

Anouar Kaddour Cherif Releases an Inimitably Gorgeous North African Album

Anouar Kaddour Cherif’s axe is the mandola, the gorgeous, woody-toned North African lute, akin to an oud with a larger body and expanded upper register. The Algerian expat’s latest album Djawla – streaming at Bandcamp – is a deliciously edgy mashup of North African Arabic music and Balkan jazz. Cherif’s songs are unpredictable: dirges burst out into scampering, deftly syncopated dances and vice versa when least expected. It’s closer to chaabi or Turkish diasporic styles than it is jazz, and his quartet play briskly but with a striking economy of notes: noodling not allowed here. There’s really nothing quite like this out there.

In the opening track, Sans Pap the group take a slinky chromatic riff, go scampering, then slow it down, the mandola and Clément Meunier’s tersely looming bass clarinet over the lithe, understated pulse of Antoine Brochot’s bass and Hannes Junker’s drums.

Meunier’s aching, desolate, duduk-like upper register flutters over Cherif’s spare riffage as the group slowly make their way into Albatross over an ominous bass drone. Eventually they pick it up – and suddenly the bird breaks free of its shackles! Was this inspired by the Baudelaire poem maybe?

Likewise, Cherif backs away from his scrambling opening taqsim for more plaintive bass clarinet to introduce Savage Butterfly, then the band scramble and team up for bristling chromatic harmonies over a tricky dance beat. Brochot opens Call of the Night with a mysterious, skeletal solo before Cherif’s Lynchian chords enter from the shadows, only to back away, leaving just the rhythm section and low-key vocals.

Neatly orchestrated echo effects shift between instruments in Sirocco, a return to tight, rapidfire syncopation, with a break for spare, misterioso solo mandola. The band hint at the Pink Panther theme, slowly building Automne Occidental into a slow North African noir blues and then a briskly circling, vampy theme.

A True Lie is an ingenious, seemingly halfspeed take on what would otherwise be a lickety-split dance tune that would be just as much at home in Macedonia or Turkey as Algeria. Virgule – French for “comma” or “decimal point,” depending on context – is the loopiest and most rhythmically straightforward track here, with playful exchanges between the instruments. The group wind up the record with Amiret Erriyam, a loping, stately anthem in the biting Arabic hijaz mode with a tasty microtonal bass solo at the center.