New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: eva salina review

Mesmerizing Accordion Sounds Serenade Bryant Park, Again

As all of us in New York have been painfully reminded over the last few days, summer is far from over. But there’s a silver lining: the summer outdoor concerts aren’t over yet, either. One of the year’s best series so far – no surprise – has been the Bryant Park accordion festival. Considering how widely that little box has infiltrated cultures around the world, it’s also hardly a surprise that this may be New York’s most multicultural annual festival.

This past evening’s installment was characteristically sublime and eclectic. Laura Vilche is one of relatively few women whose axe is the even smaller bandoneon so widely used in tango music. She played very kinetically, rhythmically and also remarkably sparsely, underscoring the sheer catchiness of her sometimes slinky, sometimes brooding mix of Argentine and Paraguayan themes. Her dynamically shifting take of the Carlos Gardel classic La Comparsita was the biggest hit with the crowd gathered on the folding chairs and blankets provided for concertgoers. Then she packed up her gear and moved to another of the park’s five quasi-stages to serenade another group; many followed.

Where Vilche was spare and almost otherworldly direct, Latvian-born accordionist Ilya Shneyveys played lavishly and even epically throughout a set of original and often relatively obscure klezmer songs from across the Jewish diaspora. He opened his set by explaining that he was going much further afield, beyond horas and Hava Nagila, and he wasn’t kidding. With long, lingering, suspenseful intros building to waterfalling and then absolutely torrential volleys of notes, he used every second of the allotted time to air out every bracing chromatic and adrenalizing minor key in a series of dances and more subdued material. The highlight was a slowly crescendoing, rather mysterious diptych typically played as an introductory theme for wedding guests. “Cocktail music,” he smirked. He’s playing tomorrow night, Sept 6 at 9 PM at Drom with pyrotechnic Russian klezmer band Dobranotch to open this year’s New York Gypsy Festival; cover is $15 if you get tix before midnight.

As much fun as it was to watch those two musicians, the stars of this installment of the accordion festival were Eva Salina and Peter Stan. In two separate sets, they played a lot of the same material, completely differently the second time around. The mesmerizing Balkan singer and her longtime accordionist collaborator aren’t just frontwoman and accompanist: each is as integral to the music as the other. Toying with rhythm and taking their time making up intros, outros and meticulously thought-out solos, they brought a jazz sophistication to a blend of Romanian and Serbian tunes from across the Romany diaspora.

Their first take of a catchy dance number, imploring Romany husbands to come home to their wives and kids from faraway jobs, was very straightforward. The second was slower and much more plaintive. Jaunty dance rhymes contrasted with haunting ballads of loss and longing. Both musicians’ fearsome technique was in full effect, whether Stan’s supersonic volleys of chromatics and grace notes, or Salina’s minute, microtonal melismas and ornamentation.

Next week’s first episode of the festival is on Weds Sept 12, starting at 5:30 PM with a phenomenally good lineup including but not limited to Ismail Butera playing Middle Eastern and Mediterranean music, Will Holshouser’s Indian-influenced accordion jazz, Shoko Nagai’s mix of klezmer and Japanese folk, and Sadys Rodrigo Espitia’s oldschool Colombian cumbia and vallenato. The festival’s grand finale is two days later, on Sept 14, and starts a half hour earlier.

Brilliant Balkan Singer Eva Salina Channels Empowerment in the Face of Despair

Since her days in the previous decade as an underage teenager belting over brass bands in Brooklyn bars, Eva Salina has established herself as one of the most distinctive and haunting voices in Balkan music. Although that’s her specialty, she doesn’t limit herself stylistically as a singer: her 20010  collaboration with fellow singer Aurelia Shrenker is a riveting glimpse of how radically she can reinvent classic Americana. Salina’s previous album was a blazing, horn-spiced, hard-rocking full-band tribute to legendary, tragic Romany crooner Saban Bajramovic.

Her latest album, Sudbina – streaming at Bandcamp– is a radical shift, a spare, rivetingly intimate reinvention of songs from the catalog of another Romany legend, Vida Pavlovic. For the most part, the instrumentation is just Salina’s voice backed by the accordion of her longtime collaborator Peter Stan. The two are playing the album release show this March 29 at 7:30 PM at Greenwich House Music School; cover is $15 and includes a copy of the new album.

Pavlovic was sort of a Balkan counterpart to Billie Holiday. She was unlucky in love; profound sadness and a sense of abandonment pervade her music. Yet there’s also a defiant, resolute joie de vivre, a quality that Salina explores deeply. In an era of global women’s marches and the Metoo movement, Pavlovic’s aching ballads are more relevant than ever. Which makes it all the more odd that it’s fallen to the American-born Salina to revive interest in her music.

The album opens with Pusti Me Da Zivim, an embittered born-to-lose theme, more or less. There’s despondency but also defiance in Salina’s slightly breathy delivery as Stan spirals and trills elegantly behind her: “Leave me to live my life alone,” is the main message; the moody minor-key melody has subtle bolero echoes.

E Laute Bašalen Taj Roven has a more brisk, marching rhythm, Stan a one-man accordion army as Salina’s voice chronicles the grim realities and constant displacement faced by Romany populations over the decades. The stark arrangement of Ostala Je Pesma Moja, Pavlovic’s signature song, underscores its theme. It’s a self-penned eulogy of sorts, the world-weary chanteuse addressing a new generation: “Remember, your mother gave you everything she had.”

Ćerma Devla Crikli is a lively dance number whose irrepressible bounce mutes an ever-present unease, a metaphorical perspective on the struggle to escape rural poverty. That dispersion comes into stark focus in the gently poignant Aven, Aven Romalen, a plea to men who’ve gone off to earn a living to come back to their families. It’s another study in contrasts, Salina’s brittle, vulnerable vocals against Stan’s balletesque leaps and pulses.

E Dadeći Cajori/Dema Miro is one of Pavlovic’s biggest hits:  the gist is “Give me peace, because you are eating my heart.” Salina’s wintry, ghostly vocals are arguably the album’s quietest yet most riveting moments.

The album winds up with Ostala, a final instrumental sendoff to Pavlovic featuring the simmering doublestops of popular Serbian trumpeter Demiran Ćerimović. Throughout the album, Salina maintains a meticulous focus on ornamentation and accents – she genuinely could pass for a Romany song diva. Which makes sense, considering she’s been singing this repertoire practically her whole life. You’ll see this on the best albums of 2018 page at the end of this year.

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.

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!

Saturday Night at Golden Fest: Best Concert of 2017, Hands Down

Game plan for last night’s big blowout at this year’s Golden Fest was to see as many unfamiliar bands as possible. That wasn’t difficult, considering that there were more than sixty Balkan and Balkan-influenced acts playing five different spaces in about eight hours at Brooklyn’s magnificent Grand Prospect Hall. The way things turned out, it was fun to catch a few familiar favorites among a grand total of fifteen different groups. Consider: when the swaying chandelier hanging over Raya Brass Band looks like it could crash on top of them at any second, and sax player Greg Squared has launched into one of his signature, supersonic volleys of microtones and chromatics, and singer Brenna MacCrimmon is belting at full throttle over a machinegunning beat, there’s no resisting that. You just join the line of dancers, or step back, take a hit of tequila  – or whatever your poison is, this is a party – and thank the random chance that you’re alive to see this.

If you’re hell-bent on being a counterintuitive concertgoer, you can kick off the evening not with the fiery brass music that the festival is best known for, but with something along the lines of the brooding Romany and klezmer guitar folk of charismatic singer Zhenya Lopatnik’s four-piece acoustic band, Zapekanka. Their set of Romany laments, drinking songs, and a folk tune that foreshadowed Django Reinhardt turned out to be a lot more bittersweet than the Russian cheesecake whose name they’ve appropriated.

It was good to get a chance to see Niva – kaval player Bridget Robbins, tamburists Corinna Snyder and Kristina Vaskys and tapan drummer Emily Geller – since they don’t play out as much as they used to, considering their members are busy with other projects. This was a recurrent theme throughout the festival. A straw poll of informed participants picked percussionist Jerry Kisslinger as king of the night, so to speak: he was scheduled to play with seven different groups, jams not included. He wasn’t part of this band. The quartet joined voices for about a half an hour of ethereal close harmonies over hypnotically circling rhythms, a mix of Macedonian dances and tunes from just over the Bulgarian border, even more lavishly ornamented with bristling microtones. Meanwhile, the circle of dancers in the upstairs Rainbow Room – much smaller than the venue’s magnificent ballroom – had packed the space to almost capacity.

Driven by Gyorgy Kalan’s austerely cavorting, rustically ornamented fiddle, the trio Fenyes Banda kept the dancers going with a mix of Hungarian and Transylvanian numbers. As raw and bucolic (yet at the same time very musically sophisticated) as that group was, it’s hard to think of an ensemble on the bill more evocative of a get-together in a village square in some distant century than Ta Aidhonia. The mixed choir harmonized in a somewhat subdued, stately set of Thracian dances, backed only by bagpipe and standup drum. The dancers didn’t quite to know what to make of this in the early going, but by a couple of songs in they were back out on the floor.

By half past eight, it was finally time to make a move downstairs for the mighty Kavala, who played a considerably more contemporary update on late 20th century Macedonian brass music, propelled by electric bass and drums. Trubas bubbled and blazed through fiery chromatic changes until finally, practically at the end of the set, star tenor sax player Lefteris Bournias took one of his signature, wildfire, shivery solos. Back upstairs, Ornamatik took a similarly electric sound further into the 21st century, the music’s fat low end anchored by nimble five-string bassist Ben Roston and frontwoman/trombonist Bethanni Grecynski. Their slinky, shapeshifting originals brought to mind Brooklynites Tipsy Oxcart (who were also on the bill, and deserve a shout for their incendiary, stomping set of mostly new material at Barbes Thursday night).

While the Roma Stars entertained the dancers in the big ballroom with woozy P-Funk synth in addition to the brass, ageless Armenian-American jazz sage Souren Baronian held the Rainbow Room crowd rapt. The octogenarian reedman’s most mesmerizing moment came during a long, undulating modal vamp where he took his clarinet and opened the floodgates of a somberly simmering river of low-register, uneasily warping microtones. And then suddenly lept out of it with a hilariously surreal quote – and the band behind him hit the chorus head-on without missing a beat. As far as dynamics and judiciously placed ideas and unselfconscious soul go, it would be unfair to expect other musicians to channel such a depth of feeling.

Although two of the acts afterward, Eva Salina and Peter Stan, and tar lute player Amir Vahab’s quartet, came awfully close. While his singer bandmate reached gracefully for angst and longing and also unrestrained joy, Stan was his usual virtuoso self. At one point, the accordionist was playing big chords, a rapidfire, slithery melody and a catchy bassline all at the same time. Was he using a loop pedal? No. It was all live. That’s how the duo are recording their forthcoming studio album, reason alone to look forward to it. Vahab’s wary, panoramic take on classic Persian and Turkish sufi themes, and his gracefully intense volleys of notes over twin percussion and otherworldly, rippling kanun, continued to the hold the crowd spellbound

By this time in the evening, many of the dancers had migrated to an even higher floor for the blazing, often completely unhinged and highly improvisational South Serbian sounds of the Novi Hitovi Brass Band. By contrast, Boston’s Cocek! Brass Band rose to the challenge of following Raya Brass Band’s volcanic set with a precise, wickedly intricate performance of their own all-original material, complete with their shoutalong theme song to close on a high note. Trumpeter/bandleader Sam Dechenne’s command of microtones and moody Balkan modes matched Greg Squared’s devastating displays of technique, if in a somewhat more low-key vein.

Hanging in the smaller rooms for most of the night while the biggest names on the bill – organizers Zlatne Uste and trumpeter Frank London’s klezmer ensemble on the top end – entertained a packed house in the ballroom, reached a haunting peak with  a vivid, hauntingly serpentine, all-too-brief set of Syrian exile anthems and lost-love ballads by levantine ensemble Zikrayat. Frontman/violinist Sami Abu Shumays led the group through this alternately poignant and biting material, the night’s furthest divergence from the Balkans into the Middle East, with his usual sardonic sense of humor and acerbic chops.

Finally, at almost two in the morning, it was time to head down to the main floor for the night’s pounding coda, from the night’s most epic act, massive street band What Cheer? Brigade. At one point, it seemed as if there were as many people in the group, gathered onstage and on the main floor as there were dancers, all romping together through a handful of swaying brass anthems that were as hypnotic as they were loud. The group’s explosive drumline had a lot to do with that. By now, the tequila was gone; so was a pocketful of Turkish taffy and Lebanese sesame crunch filched from one of the innumerable candy bowls placed around the venue by the organizers. Although everybody had been on their feet all night long, the remaining crowd looked like they really could have gone until dawn if the music had kept going. As the party did: a couple of rounds of ouzo and Souren Baronian classics on the stereo at a friends’ place up the block turned out to be the perfect way to wind down the best night of the year, musically speaking.

Three Nights in a Row at Drom: An Embarrassment of Riches

Last night at Drom, the crowd had reached critical mass by the time Innov Gnawa took the stage. It was the second weekend in a row that the seven-piece Moroccan trance-dance ensemble had packed a Manhattan club. This group is hot right now.

“What’s the appeal of this music?” the energetic, personable Virginia publicist asked the worn, haggard New York bass player.

“It’s the blues,” he replied, pulling himself out of a walking dream state. “You hear what the sintir player, the guy with the lute, is doing? He’s bouncing off an octave, but in between he’s playing a blues riff. Catchy, isn’t it? And I think that’s what people latch onto. That, and the castanets on the high end, and the bassline on the low, with the vocals in the middle. Total stereo from a thousand years ago.”

“I don’t really follow blues,” the publicist responded, guardedly. “I like Middle Eastern music.”

“Me too!” the bassist enthused. “This is the roots of Middle Eastern music, from North Africa. And my theory with the blues is that it’s in everybody’s DNA, everybody can resonate to it because the blues goes back to Ethiopia and that’s where the human species comes from.”

There were a lot of conversations like that over the course of the night. This weekend, the booking agents’ convention, a.k.a. APAP, is in town, which for ordinary people means that there are an unusual number of fantastic multiple-band bills happening for cheap or even free. The conventioneers call themselves presenters. Before you dismiss that as pretentious, consider that if you were a booker, you would probably prefer to be called a presenter. The mix of presenters, club people – the night was put on by the folks at Barbes, Brooklyn’s elite venue along with eclectic dance music label Electric Cowbell Records and Multiflora Productions – as well as random dancers got to enjoy a tantalizingly short set of shapeshifting, undulating grooves and energetic call-and-response chants in Arabic that began not onstage but on the floor in the middle of the crowd. What did it feel like to be literally rubbing elbows with bandleader Hassan Ben Jaafer, who, before he strapped on his sintir, walloped on a big bass drum slung over his shoulder? Thunderous fun. This music is obviously as adrenalizing to play as it is to be part of on the dance floor.

The previous band, Miramar, channeled a completely different kind of intensity. Singer Rei Alvarez rocked a sharp black suit, pairing off fire-and-dry-ice harmonies with his counterpart Laura Ann Singh, inscrutable in a vintage midnight blue pencil dress. The two looked like they just stepped out of a David Lynch or late-period Buñuel film, with music to match. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the most spellbinding performer of the night was keyboardist Marlysse Simmons, who played terse, elegant piano on several of the band’s moody boleros, including the opener, Sylvia Rexach’s classic Di Corazon, one of the saddest songs ever written. But it was her slinky, luridly tremoloing funeral organ on the band’s most haunting numbers, a mix of Rexach covers and originals that defines this band more than anything else. They made their way through a noir Vegas bossa that brought to mind Brooklyn art-rockers Tredici Bacci, a dramatic tango-flavored anthem with some rippling flamenco guitar lines, and a shattering version of another original, Sin Ti. The rest of the material, afloat on a murky river of organ, channeled nonstop angst and longing. In all of latin music, the bolero is the ultimate expression of estrangement and angst: in the hands of this band, that atmosphere was relentless, and breathtaking, and in its own dark way as comforting as the Moroccan grooves afterward.

The night’s most dynamically captivating singer, among many, was Eva Salina, who’d been called in on short notice since Ethiopiques groovemeisters Feedel Band weren’t able to get up from Washington, DC in the snowstorm. Her longtime accordionist Peter Stan shifted from mournful ambience, to slithery cascades downward along with plenty of jaunty Balkan party riffage as the singer moved gracefully and eloquently from a brassy wedding theme, to a brooding abandoned-wife scenario, to an understatedly wrenching Saban Bajarmovic cover addressed to someone he never got the chance to say goodbye to. Eva Salina could front any Balkan band in the world she wants (one might say that she already has). Nobody works harder at getting the accents and ornaments right, or channeling the most minute expression of emotion or shade of irony. Midway through her set, she entreated the agents in the crowd to pair experienced artists with younger groups in order to keep the music fresh…and alive.

Alash were the funniest band of the night: the crowd loved them. The trio of multi-instrumentalist/singers Bady-Dorzhu Ondar, Ayan-Ool Sam and Ayan Shirizhik take their bandname from a river in their native Tuva in central Asia, and they backed that up with a couple of sweeping, uneasily rustic pastorales blending spare acoustic guitar with wood flute and the group’s signature, oscillating throat-singing harmonies. There was also a rather spare, severe number that could have easily passed for American gospel or blues from the 1800s if it had English lyrics. But the big crowd-pleasers were the funny stuff: a swaying drinking song, a tonguetwisting number that brought to mind an auctioneer’s rapidfire delivery, and the catchy, emphatic folk tunes that they began and ended with. “Shoot,” barked Ondar as each reached a sudden, cold ending: it’s a fair guess that means something more optimistic in Tuvan than it does in English.

And Ladama, a pan-latin, mostly female (hence the name) supergroup of sorts – assembled under the auspices of the US State Department under Obama – opened the evening with mix of upbeat folk-rock, a hint of tango and a couple of serpentine cumbias. The band’s not-so-secret weapon is Maria Fernanda Gonzalez, whose axe is the bandola llanera, which looks like a Mexican bajo sexto but sounds something like a baritone ukulele with more bite. Her fleet, flamencoish flurries on a handful of numbers made for some of the night’s most intense moments; otherwise, the band – including a couple of male ringers on accordion and bass, along with singer Sara Lucas, drummer Lara Klaus, conguera Daniela Serna and a violinist, kept a seamless bounce over beats from across South America, mirroring the band members’ diverse backgrounds. That was the night’s subtext. It’s hard to imagine the incoming Presidential administration having any interest in promoting music any more globally-inspired or edgy than Bon Jovi.

Eva Salina Radically and Hauntingly Reinvents Balkan Icon Saban Bajramovic’s Cult Classics

Balkan singer Eva Salina‘s new album Lema Lema – streaming at Spotify – is a radical achievement. That it would take an American woman to bring the songs of Serbian Romany icon Šaban Bajramović to a global audience speaks volumes about how undeservedly obscure he is beyond the Romany diaspora…and also about Eva Salina’s revolutionary vision. CDBaby has both digital and physical copies.

There’s really nobody in western music quite like Bajramović – he’s sort of a Balkan counterpart to Hank Williams, but also Al Green and Bob Marley. Dating from the 1960s, his colorful songs spoke for generations of Romany people. who continue to experience disenfranchisement around the globe.

One of Eva Salina’s most ambitious moves here is not to make any grammatical adjustments for gender in Bajramović’s original Romanes-language lyrics (just as another elite singer, Mary Lee Kortes, did when she covered Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks). While the bristling minor keys, edgy chromatics and tricky meters of these songs may be exotic to most American audiences, the nuance and poignancy of Eva Salina’s richly emotive vocals transcends the limits of language: sometimes tender, sometimes coy, often harrowingly plaintive. Being versed in the language as well as the music, having immersed herself in both since childhood, no doubt helps immensely. She and her longtime accordionist Peter Stan have a couple of gigs coming up; March 3 at 8, they’re at Barbes, then the following evening they’re at the American Folk Art Museum at 5:30 PM.

The band on the album comprise the creme de la creme of New York-based Balkan talent. Along with the frontwoman and the accordionist, there’s trumpeter Frank London, guitarist Brandon Seabrook, multi-keyboardist Patrick Farrell, ubiquitous percussionist Deep Singh and tubaist Ron Caswell. There’s also a blazing brass section led by famed Serbian trumpeter Ekrem Mamutović.

Akaja Rat sets the stage, a lithely dancing, sunny, glisteningly precise nmber spiced with rat-a-tat brass, wry synth texurres and a shuffling, straight-up dancefloor beat. Boza Limunada opens with a blaze of brass from London and fellow trumpeter John Carlson, an anthemic, bittersweet, pulsingly tricky launching pad for Eva Salina’s coolly enigmatic low register. The band reinvents Djelo Djelo as somber, accordion-fueled Abbey Road Beatles art-rock under Eva Salina’s uneasily soaring melismas

Her darkly torchy approach to the plushly propulsive, noirish Hovavni Romni is spine-tingling.Singh’s slow, misterioso groove, moody low brass, Farrell’s spiraling synth and Seabrook’s dramatic David Gilmour-esque accents provide a haunting backdrop for the frontwoman’s  similarly suspenseful vocals throughout Jek Jek Dešujek, part lullaby, part warning. By contrast, the album’s title track blends staccato Balkan dancefloor chromatics and trippily twinkling art-rock under a pillowy vocal.

Singh’s leapfrogging beats in tandem with the brass adds more than a hint of bhangra to Koj Si Gola Roma, which takes on more of a Balkan reggae feel as it bounces along. They do O Zvonija Marena as a stately, understated, mysterious tango for accordion and vocals. From there they pick up the pace with with the track that may be the most familiar to Balkan music fans, Pijanica: the subtle keyboard touches under the slowly building brass conflagration are as amusing as they are psychedelic.

The final cut is I Barval Pudela, recast as blazing Romany rock:. imagine an artsier Gogol Bordello with one of the world’s most spinetingling singers out front. Spin one of this decade’s most exhilarating albums and discover two Balkan icons, one from the past and the other who promises to be one in the future.

A Must-See Eva Salina Residency for All You Balkan Music Fans

Chanteuse/accordionist/bandleader Eva Salina is one of the world’s most sought-after singers of Balkan and Eastern European music. As a result, she spends a lot of time on the road. Right now she’s in town for an extended spell: when she’s not up at Lincoln Center, teaching New York City school kids about the thrills and chills of Romany and Macedonian and Bulgarian folk tunes, she and her killer band can be found on Monday nights at around 9 PM at Sisters Brooklyn, 900 Fulton St. (Washington/Waverly, right at the Clinton-Washington C train) where they’re playing a weekly residency for the foreseeable future. Their debut performance there was last week, followed by a deliriously fun show the following Friday at Friends & Lovers in Bed-Stuy.

The band opened the show there with an extended jam. Accordionist Peter Stan (also of Slavic Soul Party) is this group’s not-so-secret weapon, bobbing and weaving and ranging from misterioso intro improvs to endless, rapidfire volleys of chromatics and bristling minor keys. On one hand, it was surreal to see guitar shredmeister Brandon Seabrook hang on simple, ominously lingering minor chords for bar after bar, but he’d also shift into maniac mode when least expected, throwing off jagged shards of skronk, elephantine exuberance and unnameable toxic frequencies. Likewise, trumpeter John Carlson (also of SSP) alternated between moody, sustained lines, often in harmony with the accordion, when he wasn’t picking up the pace with an edgy, jazz-infused focus. Tuba player Ron Caswell teamed with drummer Chris Stomquist for some unexpectedly bouncy, spring-loaded grooves for music which isn’t known for being particularly funky.

They built from Stan’s first brooding intro to a dub-infused pulse, rising with Seabrook’s snorts and wails, then some elegant chromatics from Carlson, handing off again to Stan for a whirling vortex of a solo. The bandleader then joined them for an intense, achingly microtonal, melismatic, almost reggae-tinged cover of one of the numbers on her upcoming album Lema Lema: Eva Salina sings Šaban Bajramovic. The late Bajramovic, with his otherworldly, wounded, full-throated style, was revered in his native Serbia and remains a beloved cult figure throughout the Romany community. It’s hard to think of an English-language singer who channels heartbreak like he did – Orbison is close, but no cigar. Beyond the rock world, Hector Lavoe makes a better comparison, although Bajramovic didn’t rely on falsetto as much. Eva Salina has nuance and power to match his: that an American woman would spearhead a Bajramovic revival is pretty radical in itself, especially where that music comes from.

They followed with a jaunty minor-key strut, a springboard for Eva Salina’s torchy, brassy side. Her previous album, Eva Salina Solo – mostly just accordion and vocals, or a-cappella – is as plaintively riveting as anything released this decade. This band, on the other hand, is her fun project: up in front of the group, she swayed and shimmied, eyes closed, completely one with the songs. Check out their high-voltage take of Opa Cupa, another Bajramovic number from later in the night. The Sisters residency continues this Monday, Feb 23 at 9, features two sets of tunes and there’s no cover.

A Month’s Worth of Nightcrawling, Part Three

Those of us who run music blogs are discouraged from every side from publishing concert coverage.  The publicists all want us to “preview” live shows, which is understandable: let’s get the crowd out to the gig!!! The reality is that we are in a deep, deep economic depression. The corporate media pretend it doesn’t exist because to acknowledge it would anger advertisers. The Bushwick blogs are oblivious to it because indie rock is by and large made by and for trust-funded children whose only connection with the daily reality experienced by most New Yorkers is their late-night slobbberfest at whatever trendy taco truck stays open the latest. But in spite of it all, incredible live music that has no connection whatsoever to the indie trust fund machine persists. So this final segment in three parts is dedicated to the working poor who make up an unpublicized majority of the audience at most New York concerts.

Walter Ego headlined Sunday Salon 25 at Zirzamin. The Sunday Salon began right after the hurricane last fall: it continues, unabated, a gathering of some of New York’s edgiest songwriters and musicians trading licks and songs. In an hour onstage, Walter Ego played every instrument within reach. Backed by brilliant drummer Josh Fleischmann, he began on guitar, switched to piano, eventually took over on bass for a slinky version of the Beatles’ Baby You’re a Rich Man and ended up behind the drum kit. In between, he acknowledged the horror of being behind the wheel of a subway train that runs over a passenger, went deep into Lennonesque piano mysticism, fired off jaunty, wryly amusing songs making fun of new agers and killjoys, evoking the Zombies, Beatles, Elvis Costello and ELO along the way.

Balkan chanteuse Eva Salina played a gorgeously eclectic solo show the following Friday night at the American Folk Art Museum. She’s a musician’s musician, taking the time to explain her background and how she survives in a world of magical musical niches, an American girl determined by the time she was in grade school to master styles she had little background in. Playing and singing solo with just her accordion, she held a standing-room-only crowd rapt with haunting songs from Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece and the Jewish diaspora. Rising from a hushed, sultry alto to an anguished, microtonal wail, she held the crowd breathless as she brought to life ancient stories of mismatched marriages gone drastically awry, love lost to wartime casualties fighting the Ottoman empire, and an unexpected detour into American Appalachian folk music, another one of her specialities. A rugged individualist from day one, she now teaches music all over the world and collaborates with a similarly diverse cast of the world’s most sought-after players, from trumpeter Fank London (with whom she has a new album coming out) and modern accordionist Merima Kljuco. Her new solo album is a subtly beautiful hint of the careening chromatic intensity she pursues with London and an all-star cast of Eastern European players.

What is the likelihood that on a Monday night, an 11:30 PM Brooklyn show would be sold out? If it’s Rev. Vince Anderson, that’s always a possibility. He’s reached the point where he’s just about outgrown his weekly Monday residency at Union Pool, which is not a small venue. With a raw roar, he crashed into his signature song, Get Out of My Way and kept a packed house dancing throughout a somewhat abbreviated first set this past Monday night. Is there any jam band in New York who can match Anderson and his Love Choir? Doubtful. Firing off funk riffage on his trusty Nord Electro keyboard and backed by brilliant downtown baritone saxophonist Paula Henderson and Dave Smith on trombone plus guitar, bass and drums, he kept a resonant, murky minor-key mix going, then quoted both Hendrix and Jesus Christ Superstar in a slinky version of his own song Down to the River. A new number, Fallen from the Pray explored an existential crisis for the “dirty gospel” bandleader and minister (click here for his most recent sermon). “People are curious. They see me on the train and they come up to me and ask me, am I the Rev. Vince Anderson, and I say yes. Then they ask me why I’m depressed. and I say, do I look depressed? Am I acting for you? You mean I’m not animated like I am onstage? Then they ask me if I’m a believer. Today? Stone cold atheist, tomorrow who knows?”

The Rev., as he is lovingly known, is not an atheist. He followed that angst-ridden romp with a solo piano version of Precious Lord, Take My Hand. then a deep-fried soul vamp titled I Like My Lettuce Fried (you can actually do it if you use the heart of the vegetable) and then his hot sauce theme, Tangalicious. And that was just the first set. By the time that was over, there was no possible way to get into the room at Union Pool: you have been warned.

Alison Tartalia has an impossible 11 PM Tuesday residency this month at Spike Hill. It’s a great venue to not have to worry about drawing a crowd: it’s right by the train, the bartenders are super friendly and it’s the antithesis of the fussy trendoid bars immediately to the south. And the sound is great. Her first night here saw her working creepy noir cabaret, stagy theatrical piano songs, a ferocious blast of guitar rock and more delicate, pensive sounds. If you’re in the neighborhood, check her out – you’ve got a month to do it.

From an audience perspective, there were also a couple of shows last month that should not have happened  That ferocious Balkan brass band that plays that beer garden in Williamsburg shouldn’t advertise their shows there: dudes; just take the money and run. When the bartenders blast cheesy eastern European jazz while you’re playing, it’s time to quit while you’re ahead – and you are not easy to drown out wth the PA system. And that blues guitarist who’s gotten so much ink here on the live calendar needs to play some solo shows instead of with that hack who’s been kicking around the hippie scene here since the 70s.

Eva Salina’s Scorching Saturday Night Debut

Eva Salina Primack has been the go-to singer on the New York Balkan music circuit for awhile now, and has an upcoming collaboration with contemporary Bosnian accordionist Merima Kljuco. And somehow she’s finally found time to put together her own band, simply called Eva Salina. Their live debut Saturday night at a benefit for the Eastern European Folklife Center at the Ukrainian National Home was as both as feral and subtle as you would imagine from a group including Frank London on trumpet, Patrick Farrell on accordion, Rich Stein of Gato Loco on percussion and Ron Caswell playing simple, steady oompah basslines on tuba. Unlike most bands with a charismatic frontwoman, this one is just as much about the instrumentalists as it is the singer, Primack shimmying with her eyes closed, lost in the music while Farrell and London traded incendiary chromatics, the slinky vamps rising from a flicker to a flame.

The show was a characteristically eclectic mix of songs from across Eastern Europe, across the decades. Although Primack has a stunning vocal range in whatever language she chooses to sing in, this time out she aired out her lower register, sometimes brooding, sometimes brassy, sometimes sultry with just the hint of a rasp as the show went on. The effect was most impressive on a trio of songs in Romanes by the late, legendary Serbian gypsy crooner Saban Bajramovic. It takes nerve for an American to cover him; for a woman, it’s doubly difficult, but Primack nailed it, diving low and angst-fueled and eventually rising triumphantly on Me Mangava Te Kelav, a song whose gist is essentially “life sucks but let’s marry off my son and then party.” The tricky tempos of Rovena Rovena, a lament for a mother who’s left her family to go off to Germany in search of work, didn’t phase anybody, Primack poignantly evoking the pain and loss of a young girl left to fend for herself as London and Farrell sparred with an increasingly agitated series of chromatic riffs. And Pijanica, the lament of a drunk whose inability to pull himself together is gradually costing him everything, built matter-of-factly from a clapalong groove to a ferocious trumpet crescendo – as this band did it, at least he got to go out with a bang.

The most haunting part of the night was a pair of Bulgarian songs, Lenka Bolna Lezhi and Kate, Katerino, the first a plaintive account of a dying girl whose doctor eventually promises to heal her – if he can run away with her and marry her. The second implored a girl not to marry the local teacher, who has no house, and will probably drag her from town to town where the locals might think she’s a vampire (these songs’ lyrical content is sometimes as lurid as the Appalachian gothic that Primack also gravitates to, notably with her AE vocal duo project with Aurelia Shrenker). Ironically, the band did the most bizarre song of the night, the Albanian folk tune Trendafil (“Throwing your hair behind your eyebrows like a crown/What did the boy do that made you not talk to him?”) completely straight-up, the catchy major/minor harmonies of the accordion and trumpet so seamless over Stein’s relaxed backbeat groove that it was practically new wave rock. This band’s next gig is at the Jalopy on May 3 in a doublebill with Michael Alpert and Julian Kytasty’s excellent duo project.

Raya Brass Band were next on the bill. Their new album Dancing on Roses, Dancing on Cinders tops the list for best of 2012 so far (along with Chicha Libre’s new one, Canibalismo). As you would imagine, their Balkan jams are pretty amazing live. Now why would anybody want to blow off such a good band? It’s called having a life. Getcha next time, guys. Same to you, Forro in the Dark.