Arguably the highlight of this year’s annual New York Gypsy Festival, put on by the brain trust behind downtown global music mecca Drom, is the show this Sunday night, Oct 5 at 7:30 PM by South Serbian brass legends Boban i Marko Markovic at the Schimmel Auditorium at Pace University on Spruce St. in the financial district. Tix are very pricy, $39, but if recent albums and the live footage at the group’s youtube channel are to be trusted, the show could be worth it.
Group founder and flugelhorn player Boban Markovic has since passed the bandleader role to his trumpeter son Marko, continuing a tradition that’s seen the ensemble take top honors not once but twice at the annual trumpet showdown in Guca, Serbia. Their latest album, Gipsy Manifesto (streaming at Spotify), came out last year. On the one before that, Balkan Brass Battle, the massive brass orchestra find themselves dueling in a ferocious but friendly collaboration with the similarly legendary Fanfare Ciocarlia. And there’s also a 2010 greatest-hits compilation titled Golden Horns (also at Spotify).
Of the three, Balkan Brass Battle (Spotify link) is probably the least reflective of Boban i Marko’s live show, due to the sheer number of players on any one track. Golden Horns, because it encompasses much of the band’s career, offers a better idea of what to expect in concert: keening clarinet and alto sax solos, clip-clop percusion, shivery massed trumpets, pulsing trubas and tubas, bracing minor keys, ominous chromatics and otherworldly microtones. The band also has a sense of humor: they’ll toss in a droll quote from Mozart, or mash up Ethiopiques and the Doors just to keep the crowd on their toes. There are drinking songs and several tracks with guest vocalists. Golden Horns also includes a boisterous take of a famous Jewish melody and a tongue-in-cheek Neil Young cover
What might be most interesting to see is how the songs on Gipsy Manifesto translate to the stage. Since the production is a lot more techy – a New Yorker would call this “Mehanata music” – is the band going to bring along a synthesizer? Probably not. Which means that what’s a much more, um, tightly wound production will loosen up and swing like the band typically does live. The songs here are more stripped-down, often with accordion, electric guitar or piano over the shuffling drum machine beat. But there’s plenty of eclectic stuff as well: a moodily orchestrated, Middle Eastern jazz-inflected trip-hop theme; a lively EDM parody that morphs into salsa; a woozy departure into reggae; and a track with fractured English lyrics that sounds like Gogol Bordello in the days when they relied as much on horns as guitars. And all of it has those delicious minor keys and chromatics that make music from the Balkans on east so irresistible.