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Category: dance music

Rapidfire Pyrotechnics From an Iconic Balkan Brass Band

Fanfare Ciocarlia, the iconic brass band, have represented Romania perhaps better than anyone for the past two decades. And they have a new album, It Wasn’t Hard To Love You streaming at Bandcamp. Interestingly, as much as these guys can blast along on a dance tune for minutes on end, most of the songs here are pretty short. And there are a lot of them, a grand total of sixteen jams to get you dancing in minor keys.

They open with a joke, a deadpan brass band cover of Just the Two Of Us, Grover Washington Jr.’s 80s cheeseball smooth jazz hit: it’s pure punk rock. Then the group get down to business. Babo Never Worked a Day has a steady but understated dancefloor thud from drummers Paul Benedikt Stehlescu and Costel “Gisniaca” Ursu and tantalizingly serpentine solos from clarinetist Costel Oprica Ivancea and alto saxophonist Dan Ionel Ivancea.

The Hungarian Wild Bunch features rapidfire staccato trumpets over icepick baritone horns: that’s Costica “Cimai”Trifan, Paul Marian Bulgaru, Craciun Ovidiu Trifan and Lazar Radulescu on trumpets, Laurentiu Mihai Ivancea and Constantin “Sulo” Calin on baritone horns, Mihaita Sergiu Nastase and Vasile Stangaciu on helikon.

The brief and indomitably cheery Pannonicated Polka has vocals. A rough translation from the Romanian:

And when the evening
Turns into an everyday life full of tears
Our younger days are gone
But we barely noticed

Escape From Baltimore turns out to be made via the railroad tracks: gotta love that kettledrum. The lickety-split Song For Noga will take your breath away. The group slow down just a little for the catchy chromatic sway of Hobo Kolo and then go into circus rock bolero territory with The Trumpeter’s Lament.

First Aid Klezmer has clarinet front and center, as you might expect. There are wry classical flourishes in Porsche Polka and spine-tingling microtonal sax in Gypsy Mambo No. 555.

Red Moon has a mix of latin and Balkan flair, and a surprisingly plaintive trumpet solo, while Busbus is packed with all kinds of slyly orchestrated tradeoffs. Demon Dance, predictably, is a springboard for sabretoothed precision but also suspensefully wafting trumpet. Then the band go Cruzzzando El Campooo with hints of cumbia and dixieland.

The “digital bonus track” is Mosquito Swamp, where the horns are so liquid it’s almost as if they’re a giant accordion. It would be out of character for this band – and for this blog – if this wasn’t on the best albums of 2021 list at the end of the year.

Colorful, Upbeat Spanish and Romany Dance Sounds From Caamaño & Ameixeiras

Accordionist Sabela Caamaño and violinist Antía Ameixeiras‘ debut album Aire – streaming at Spotify – is a high-energy, edgy mix of traditional Spanish and Balkan dances and imaginative originals. The duo are occasionally bolstered by mandolin, bass clarinet and trumpet. Most of the themes here are instrumentals, with Ameixeiras occasionally taking a turn on vocals. The duo like long launching pads that rise to explosive crescendos.

They open with Florencio, a jaunty waltz, Ameixeiras’ soaring chords and shivery ornamentation over Caamaño’s alternately precise and lush accordion. They begin the second track, Mercedes y Dolores with a stark, chromatic Romany pulse, then morph it into a circle dance that reaches a wild peak.

Alegria Dio’la Dea, another waltz, is more boisterous – is that a theremin lurking way up in the clouds?

Ameixeiras sings the ballad Se Souberas with an expressive, melismatic Romany-influenced delivery, beginning hazily and rising to unexpected intensity on the wings of her vocal multitracks. Then the two women tackle the tricky Serbian rhythms and shapeshifting themes of Buchimitsa, Carola Ortiz’s bass clarinet lurking on the perimeter.

They return to 3/4 time for La Bal de la Marine, moving between a brooding bolero melody and brighter, musette-esque terrain. The album’s high point is the bracing, Andalucian-tinged waltz Maneo de Cambre, Ameixeiras taking a moody turn on vocals and then trading allusive, plaintive solos with Ortiz’s clarinet.

Maribel is a good segue, a biting, incisively strolling minor-key bounce. True to its title, Transatlantico has a blend of cosmopolitan nuevo tango, bluesy and 80s funk-pop in rustic acoustic disguise, along with one of Caamaño’s most expressive solos.

Valse de Pasmar comes across as a wistful lullaby with more than a hint of dixieland, a droll intro and a cheery muted trumpet solo. The duo wind up the album with the title track, its enigmatic Eastern European harmonies and vocal inflections. What a breath of fresh air this album is – you may be seeing this on a lot of best-of-2021 lists at the end of the year.

Aigua Put a Gorgeous, Poignant New Spin on Traditional Spanish Songs

Aigua play counteriutuitive Spanish folk tunes.

It’s always validating to hear a song and imagine the perfect way to drive a verse or chorus home…and then hear the band playing that riff exactly as you had envisioned it. The Spanish duo’s electrifying yet subtle new album Nonino – streaming at Bandcamp – is full of moments like that. One of them happens about a couple of minutes into the first song, where guitarist Joan Peiró Aznar caps off a verse with an elegant descent into a minor sixth chord that you have to imagine, since he doesn’t actually hit it.

Pure magic.

Meanwhile, melodeon player Lies Hendrix is way up in the mix, supplying a turbulent river of immersive multi-reed nectar.

That song, Decimes de la Mara Tierra is an antiwar tango. The duo follow that with a similarly plaintive instrumental, Bruidsmazurka, Aznar again delivering the coups de grace amid Henrix’s swaying rivers of sound.

This is typical of the duo’s update on Spanish folk music. On one hand, it can be stately and antique. On the other, their sizzling chops and attention to poignant detail give their material an immediacy that transcends its ancient origins or influences.

Aznar sings Les Dones de L’Almacen with an expressive, wistful intensity, Hendrix picking up the pace as the guitar shifts from insistent chords to a playful intertwine. The minimalistic melodeon-and-vocal arrangement of L’Estrela del Vetlatori also ramps up the bittersweetness. Then they pick up the pace with a spirited dance, Ja Ve L’Horabaixa, equally infused with flamenco and Belgian musette.

Aznar lurks in the background in Borreiada as the rhythms and atmosphere morph from tricky and enigmatic to a wryly jaunty hornpipe dance. The most disarmingly attractive song on the album is Illa del Sal, a bolero with an unexpectedly jazz-tinged guitar solo.

There’s a practically stern flamenco pulse to Fandango de Aiora. Delicate Genius is ridiculously funny and the most modern-sounding, Django Reinhardt-influenced track here.

The two musicians follow that with the cosmopolitan, shapeshifting grey-sky musette L’Amelanchier and close with the sober, low-key title track.

Slinky, Metaphorically Loaded, Ecstatic Psychedelia From the Isle of Cyprus

In the depths of the lockdown in his native Cyprus earlier this year, Monsieur Doumani frontman and tzouras lute player Antonis Antoniou persevered, became a one-man band and put out a serpentine, hypnotic solo album. Good news: his main band is back together, and has an ecstatically nocturnal new release, Pissourin streaming at Bandcamp.

This time out the group have switched guitarists, longtime touring member Andys Skordis replacing Angelos Ionas. Demetris Yiasemides returns on trombone, further enhancing the surreal atmosphere. The result is arguably the most enveloping and richly textured record of an already psychedelic career.

The opening number, Tiritichtas is a characteristically undulating, loopy, rembetiko-inspired chromatic theme with half-whispered lyrics about a trickster archetype. Antoniou sings Giorgos Vlamis’ aphoristic lyrics in Greek:

Smile at the emerging shadow
The light gets in if it finds a crack
Break down the clock, enough
Count the minutes with your heart

The rhythms get trickier in Poúlia (Pleiades), trombone serving as bass under the glittering interweave of gritty guitar and icy, oscillating tzouras textures: the trick ending is irresistibly funny. Anchored by a tasty minor-key guitar/tzouras interweave, Kalikandjari is a launching pad for lyricist Marios Epaminondas’s Dionysan tableau: only a crazed joie de vivre can save us at this point.

The group keep the nocturnal elixirs flowing in Koukkoufkiaos (The Owl), its Balkan tinges fueled by the sputtering trombone. They straighten out that pouncing beat a little for the album’s title track (rough translation: Heart of the Night), slinky tzouras climbing to shivery peaks over an increasingly frenetic backdrop.

Martha Frintzila takes over the mic, adding subtle enticement to Thamata (Miracles), Antoniou’s tzouras rippling over the bubble of the trombone. It’s the album’s most epically psychedelic track.

Alavrostishiotis (Sprite) seems to be a New Orleans spirit at heart, Skordis’ keening slide guitar multitracks over a blippy, loopy fourth line of a pulse. Nichtopapparos (Night Bat) is a sinister tale, both the trickiest and most hypnotic number here. The band wind up the album with Astrahan, a bracing, edgy account of menacing mermaid seduction. What a thrill, all the way through. This may be a year that’s been starved for psychedelic sounds, but this is one of the best records of 2021.

Wild, Electrifying Flamenco and Balkan-Flavored Dances From Besarabia

One of the most feral, entertaining albums of the year is Spanish group Besarabia‘s Animal Republic, streaming at youtube. If adrenaline is your thing, this is your jam. Multitracking themselves for a kinetically ornate, Middle Eastern-infused flamenco sound, they make a lot of noise for a trio. Eva Domingo sings, plays davul, darbuka and other percussion. Jaume Pallardo’s primary axe is the Cretan lute, but he also plays oud and baglama, often in the same song. Violist and violinist Heidi Erbrich is not only the lead instrumentalist, more or less, but is also the group’s flamenco dancer.

The first track is The Real Royal Turkey – seemingly referring to the nation, but it’s actually about the bird. Pallardo’s tantalizingly brief lute and oud breaks punch in over Erbrich’s melismatic, modal viola and emphatically syncopated stomp. The group introduce Oroneta with eerie, Bulgarian-tinged vocal harmonies, then launch into a lush, slashingly chromatic, trickily rhythmic theme. The hushed interlude toward the end, with Pallardo’s mysterious, muted plucking, comes as a real surprise.

The group follow with the raw, rustic flamenco instrumental El Conte de Talp Que Volia Ser Acell. Giraffe by the Sea is next, an irresistibly picturesque, magic-realist narrative set to punchy syncopation, with incisive lute and more bracing, antique modalities from the viola.

Cants de Balena (Whale Song) is more austere and closer to jazz, with Erbrich’s airy string harmonies and a nimbly scrambling lute solo. The album’s most hypnotically circling number, La Dans de la Serp has allusively Egyptian-inflected modes, a scary false ending, a spacious, all-too-brief oud solo and some neat oud/viola tradeoffs.

Elefanta is a diptych. Part one, La Cacharreria is an absolutely gorgeous, bittersweet lute theme and variations, with another ridiculous, funny spoken-word break from Domingo. The second half, Altibajos begins with an enigmatic viola melody and takes on more Arabic tinges as the group pounce along.

Perdut has a sparse, wistful lullaby quality. El Gato Rubato – a song that needed to be written, right? – turns out to be an amusing, high-voltage flamenco number. This cat does what he damn well pleases. The band wind up the album with the austere, elegaic counterpoint of Spider Tears. This is a lock for one of the best albums of 2021.

Elegant, Intricate, Psychedelic Cumbias and Tropical Sounds on the Upper West Side

Saturday evening on the Upper West Side, banks of grey clouds were moving in fast and ominous. But in the community garden on 89th west of Amsterdam, tucked in cozily under a tent, Inti & the Moon played a colorful, upbeat, intricately individualistic mix of tropical sounds with tinges of psychedelia and jazz.

There is no Inti in the band. Inti is the Incan sun god: so, the band cover all the bases. They did all that in a mix of originals and imaginative covers. Bandleader/guitarist Geo Suquillo played spiky thickets of fingerpicking, flinging shards of chords into the mix. Frontwoman Noel Wippler shifted from a simmering, ripe, oldschool soul-infused delivery to a wounded wail in the night’s biggest crescendos, in both Spanish and Portuguese. Alto saxophonist Xavier del Castillo began the night playing brooding resonance on the band’s first number, then shifted to alto flute on a few songs, including a bossa tune where he played both.

This group’s cumbias are more relaxed and slinky than the briskly pulsing chicha-style versions that some of the bands around town – at least the ones playing before the lockdown – typically gravitate toward. It was the bass player’s birthday, and he was clearly in a good mood, adding deft harmonic accents against low open strings, plus fleeting hammer-ons and slides. The drummer brought a jazz sophistication, whether subtly riding the rims, or working his way into a 5/4 groove on a biting minor key number which for a second seemed to be a Caribbean take on Take Five.

Suquillo saved his most sparkling solo for a bright, merengue-flavored tune, then took it unexpectedly dark and vampy after a long solo. Del Castillo’s plaintive phrasing pulled the song further into the shadows before a tantalizingly brief guitar/sax duel. The biggest hit with the crowd was Wippler singing an impassioned take of Los Hijos del Sol’s classic Carinito, over an animated but restrained backdrop. There were a couple of other popular covers in the mix, one possibly from the Yma Sumac catalog, but done with much less fanfare. The band approached a familiar Jobim theme with a similar elegance and encored with a stately Brazilian ballad.

With November looming, there isn’t much in the way of live music that’s been publicly announced which is open to all New Yorkers without apartheid restrictions. However, Inti & the Moon have been staples of the free outdoor concert circuit since the late teens, so it’s hardly a stretch to think they might try to squeeze in another park appearance like this before winter gets here.

Brooding, Cinematic, Synthesized Dancefloor Jams From Reza Safinia

Keyboardist and composer Reza Safinia likes diptychs and triptychs. Kraftwerk and the rest of the icy, mechanical, electronically-fixated bands of the 70s are a big influence. The techier side of Arabic habibi pop and suspense film music also factor into his hypnotically propulsive instrumentals. He likes long jams that go on for nine or ten minutes at a clip. There’s a pervasive darkness in his work, but it’s closer to a flashing digital billboard approximation of evil than the genuine, ugly item. His latest album Yang is streaming at Bandcamp. If you need dance music for your Halloween party this year, this will do just fine.

He opens it with Yantra, a habibi pop Exorcist Theme of sorts, a choir patch from the synth rising behind the chimes and flutters. Watercolor is an insistently rippling piano theme teleported into quasi-diabolical Alan Parsons Project hyper-gamma space.

Shiva is also a throwback, closer to Tangerine Dream’s mechanically pulsing, hypnotic mid/late 70s themes, then morphs into a moody, motorik theme closer to the title’s Indian destroyer spirit. Eddy begins as such a close relative to an iconic/monotonous green-eyed New Order hit from the early 80s that it’s funny, but then Safinia does a 180 and brings down the lights.

Loopy, warpy, increasingly warm and playful sequencer riffs intertwine in the next track, Dream.

Vitruvian is closer to 21st century EDM here, a picturesque bullet train passing through a padlocked nighttime industrial wasteland of the mind. And when you least expect, Safinia transforms it into an angry anthem.

Prana is even techier and, ironically, more breathless. Shushumma doesn’t get interesting until the playful clockwork counterpoint midway through. Wary, surrealistically echoing phrases filter through the mix in Helix: this transhuman DNA is twisted! Then all of a sudden it’s a whistling, windy nocturne, and then an increasingly droll, squirrelly theme.

Funkbible is the lone dud here: that phony cassette wow effect is annoying. Safinia brings the album full circle, more or less, with the trip-hop Tantra.

Francesc Sans Takes Gorgeous, Blissfully Energetic Spanish Bagpipe Music to New Places

Spanish bagpiper Francesc Sans’s debut album as a bandleader, L’Infinit – streaming at Spotify – is wildly dynamic, often suspenseful, blissful music. As Dr. Pam Popper likes to remind us, we need to bolster our sense of joy and fun more than ever in times like these. This album is an especially exhilarating way to reconnect and recharge.

Sans plays with a breathtaking clarity, an unwavering wind-tunnel tone and a spun-silk legato. What’s just as delicious is that there are sometimes as many as three accordions at once on many of the songs here. They’re rooted in traditional styles – a lot of circle dances, a lot of waltzes – but the musicianship is way outside the box.

Sanz rises out of a murky pool of sound to a suspenseful march, then leads the group in a cheery waltz in the opening number, Tres Tocs Un Cant. After another portentous lull, they take it out triumphantly. There’s a small army of musicians on this record: Rafalito Salazar on guitar; Guillem Anguera, Josep Aparicio and Carles Belda on accordion; Pep Mateu on keys; Artemi Agràs on bass; Albert Carbonell on violin; Alexis Lanza on cello; Josep Maria Ribelles on harp; Pep Toni Rubio on flute; Iris Gayete and Pere Joan Martorell on percussion; and Ester G. Llop, Heura Gaya and Mariona Escoda on vocals,

The second track, Jnavarro is another waltz, rising to a delirious minor-key intensity. And it’s over too soon: the group could have gone on for another ten minutes and it wouldn’t be been boring. Then Sans totally flips the script with the piano ballad Les Quintes, first tenderly, then rising to symphonic proportions on the wings of the bagpipe against Mateu’s angst-fueled, neoromantic piano.

The band bring the party back with Amoretes, a rousing circle dance: Sans’ sirening glissando before the pouncing rhythm returns will give you goosebumps. After that, Tres Niuetes has rippling piano and a briskly bouncing beat that’s almost funk.

Sans stays with that number’s allusive chromatics on the airy introduction to Lo Meu Sud before the group launch into a Gipsy Kings-style romp. A La Nit De Nadal has a resonant bagpipe melody that’s just a wary hair off from a big Scottish air…plus somber Renaissance vocal harmonies.

L’Horizon begins as a cheerfully ambling theme, then shifts to a bracingly chromatic Andalucian trajectory before a wildly careening outro. Sans’ piercing clarity is stunning in A Les Fosques Pel Call, an irresistibly edgy acoustic cumbia tune.

Dolors Gegants is aptly titled, Lanza’s cello starkly aloft over Mateu’s spare, glittering piano, but then the group return to a boisterous circle dance: there’s no stopping this crew. They close the album with L’Aloseta. a rapturously unsettled cumbia lowlit with Gaya’s expressive, poignantly bittersweet vocals. What a disarmingly beautiful record for a time when we really need music like this.

Sizzling Noir Swing in the Black Hills on the First of the Month

Back in 2018, Minneapolis band Miss Myra & the Moonshiners put out one of the most darkly electrifying oldtime swing albums of the century. The band’s lineup has shifted a bit since then, but they’re still ripping up stages across the northern United States. That record, Sunday Sinning, is still streaming at their music page, and the band have a gig on Oct 1 at 7 PM at the Monument, 444 Mt Rushmore Rd. in Rapid City, South Dakota. Cover is $27.50, but students get in for ten bucks less.

If the creepy, hi-de-ho side of swing is your thing, don’t blink on this record like this blog did the first time around. The group have the chutzpah to start it with their own theme song, Miss Myra leading the sinister romp with her voice and Django-inspired, briskly percussive guitar attack, lead guitarist Zane Fitzgerald Palmer and clarinetist Sam Skavnak spicing the the doomy ambience from trumpeter Bobby J Marks and trombonist Nathan Berry. Tuba player Isaac Heath provides a fat pulse with nimble color from drummer Angie Frisk.

They play Sheik of Araby with a hint of noir bolero on the intro, then they go scrambling with a hearty jump blues-style call-and-response between Myra and the guys. The Kaiser, an ominously steady klezmer swing tune, has bowed bass and a sinister bass clarinet solo from Skavnak before Palmer goes spiraling up into the clouds.

Likewise, Miss Myra’s creepy downward chromatics in Egyptian Ella, Skavnak’s clarinet front and center. Everybody Loves My Baby is brassier – five songs in, and we’re still in a minor key. Sunday Sinning (Palmer’s Bar) features a sizzling tradeoff from the clarinet to Palmer’s guitar solo. They close the record with the stomping, brisk Red Hot & Blue Rhythm – the only major-key song on the record – the ending screams out for audience participation. South Dakotans are obviously in for a treat on the first of the month.

A Familiar Favorite on the Oldtime Swing Scene Return For an East Village Dance Party

Until the lockdown last year, Baby Soda were one of the busiest bands on the New York oldtimey swing circuit. They’re also one of the most original. Where Svetlana & the Delancey Five began to bring in repertoire from the 40s on forward, along with more outside-the-box arrangements, Baby Soda distinguished themselves as improvisers. What made their shows so much fun is that they didn’t just try to replicate those old 78s: they’d keep the dancers going, with all kinds of wild interplay and solos, for minutes on end. They’re back to their old tricks, with an outdoor show this Sept 24 at about 7 PM to kick off this year’s LUNGS Festival in the East Village at La Plaza Cultural de Armando Perez, Ave C and 9th St.

They recorded their live album – streaming at Bandcamp – at their main haunt, Radegast Hall, back in 2011 (sadly, the venue doesn’t have music anymore). There’s been a rotating cast of players filtering through the band over the years. The record has the original core unit of Emily Asher on trombone and vocals, Adrian Cunningham on clarinet and tenor sax, Jared Engel on banjo and Kevin Dorn on drums. Peter Ford plays box bass and Kevin V Louis plays cornet; both sing.

The sound quality is vastly better than you would expect from an outdoor show on a Saturday at a crowded Williamsburg beer garden. The opening number, a boisterous take of the old hokum blues revenge tune You Rascal You, is a red herring: don’t be fooled by the relative brevity of this song because the other numbers here go on for much longer. Ford sings it; guest clarinetist William Reardon Anderson bubbles within a cheery web of dixieland counterpoint.

The rest of the album is more solo-centric. The instrumental Weary Blues is anything but tired: Louis’ moment where he spirals out of the sky draws a roar from the drinkers. The band follow with a New Orleans mardi gras shuffle, a dixieland remake of a hymn, then When You Wore a Tulip with its energetic guy/girl vocals.

Cunningham’s modulated clarinet solo on the midtempo drag Whinnin Boy is another highlight. A deliciously klezmerized take of Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho is the best song of the afternoon, with an ecstatic cornet/drums duel.

After a booty-shaking Palm Court Strut, Asher moves to the mic for an undulating take of Sugar and then shows off her signature, devious sense of humor with her horn. Ford must like the mean songs because he takes over on vocals again on Nobody’s Sweetheart Now. They go out in a blaze of Glory Glory. A good choice to open the festival on the 24th.