New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

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A Tantalizing Taste of Golden Fest Last Night at Trans-Pecos

It’s not likely that the WNYU folks had Golden Fest in mind when they booked three of New York’s most exciting bands to play Trans-Pecos last night. But the triplebill of riveting Macedonian duo Glas, hotshot oudist Kane Mathis and haunting Turkish band Dolunay are all vets of the annual Brooklyn mecca for sounds from across the Balkans and the Middle East as well. Golden Fest 2018 takes place next January 12 and 13; this was a hint of the kind of wild intensity and stark rapture that will be in almost absurd abundance there that weekend.

Glas, the duo of tamburist/kaval player Vedran Boškovski and singer Corinna Snyder, opened the night. This was more a showcase for her elegance and subtlety than the floor-to-ceiling power and feral microtones of her vocals in pioneering Bulgarian choral trio Black Sea Hotel. Boškovski made it look easy, steadily strumming his open-tuned tambura, alternating between allusive, hypnotic modes and more ominous, acerbic Middle Eastern-flavored tonalities. He brought more of a stark, rustic touch to a couple of songs, backing Snyder’s wary cadences with stark, overtone-infused lines on the kaval, a wooden Balkan flute.

That Snyder speaks the language further enables her to channel the relentless grimness in these old songs. The road is treacherous, highwaymen are everywhere, war is omnipresent, all omens are bad and love is fleeting. Their most riveting number was a dirge, a guy kidnapped by the enemy giving his last goodbyes. They closed with a somewhat more upbeat number: so you’re already engaged? Let’s elope anyway!

Mathis is the not-so-secret weapon in Alsarah & the Nubatones, filling the enormous shoes left behind by the late, great oudist Haig Magnoukian. Leading a trio with a percussionist on boomy dumbek goblet drum and House of Waters’ Moto Fukushima on eight-string bass, he opened with a hypnotically circling, rippling West African-flavored number that sounded like a tune for the kora – an instrument Mathis also plays virtuosically. From the three went into a serpentine Middle Eastern theme, Mathis adding fiery chords to the mix early on, Fukushima’s solo going off into hard bop before finally making an emphatic, chromatic flourish of a landing. Mathis’ endless, machinegunning flurries in his closing epic left his rhythm section wide-eyed: it’s hard to think of anyone else in town who can play as hard and fast, yet as precisely, on any instrument.

The most haunting song of the entire night was an original by another oudist, Dolunay’s Adam Good, evoking the shadowy majesty of the Trio Joubran with his brooding resonance. Where Snyder had been all about distance and solemnity and mystery, Dolunay frontwoman/percussionist Jenny Luna went for the jugular with her plaintive, angst-fueled melismas. Violinist Eylem Basaldi echoed that poignancy, playing achingly beautiful, low-midrange, grey-sky washes of microtones, almost as if she was playing a cello.

Dolunay like diptychs and segues of all kinds; this time, they did sets of threes. Most of their material is on the slow and somber side, and this was typical. Most of their songs are about absence and longing: boyfriend goes off to war or over the mountains, never to be seen again, ad infinitum. Plus ça change, huh? What was new was getting to hear Luna sing in Ladino, the Sephardic Spanish dialect, in a couple of moody Andalucian-flavored numbers, something she’s especially suited to since she’s a native Spanish speaker. Dolunay’s next gig is on an amazing triplebill with feral yet supertight original Balkan group Raya Brass Band and hard-grooving Balkan/reggae/rock band Tipsy Oscart at Littlefield on Nov 30 at 9 PM; cover is $10.

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Dolunay Bring Their Turkish and Balkan Magic to Barbes on Saturday Nights This Month

A Dolunay show is like a long magic carpet ride: you never know where one song ends and another begins, and either way, you don’t want it to end. If there’s any sound that’s appropriate for this particular era in New York, it’s sad songs written by immigrants in hostile territory. Most of Dolunay’s serpentine ballads, drenched in melancholy and longing, draw on the tradition of the Rumeli people, native Turkish speakers who brought the spine-tingling ornamentation and Middle Eastern tones of their music to the Balkans.

With her full, expressive voice, vast range and wounded vibrato, frontwoman/drummer Jenny Luna is an ideal vehicle for this kind of material. She and the band – who lately has been a trio with oudist Adam Good and violinist Eylem Basaldi – have a three-week Saturday evening residency this December at 6 PM at Barbes. starting tonight, Dec 3 and then on the 10th and 17th as well. Next week will be a live radio broadcast, opening for fantastic Macedonian band Odglasi and then on the 17th Dolunay promises a long, luxurious set of classical Turkish maqam music.

Their most recent Manhattan gig was at the American Folk Art Museum last month. Luna played dombek (goblet drum) on the night’s faster numbers and daf – the boomy, funereal frame drum – on the slower tunes in the set, amplified by the museum atrium’s echoey sonics for extra majesty. Good got most of the intros and took several long, judiciously crescendoing solos, buildling matter-of-factly out of variations on catchy chromatic riffs and then taking them skyward. Luna took one mournful, melismatic vocal intro by herself over Basaldi’s resonant washes. The violinist alternated between tersely sailing lines, biting microtones and one particularly spine-tingling, shivery solo into one of the night’s many mysterious segues.

The songs covered plenty of familiar territory: people gone over the mountains and missing their loved ones, or returning to the family village only to discover that their sweethearts have gone off with someone else. The most memorable original was a Basaldi ballad that equated the end of a relationship to seaweed washed up onshore. Beyond its poignant beauty, this music is comforting in the sense that people have suffered for centuries yet somehow we’ve managed to survive – something we really have to figure out before January 21, 2017 comes around.

Sandaraa Build a Magical Bridge with Pakistani and Jewish Sounds

You want esoteric…and way fun? How about a mashup of Pakistani and klezmer sounds? Meet south Asian/Jewish jamband Sandaraa (Pashto for “song”). While they have some rock instrumentation, they’re not a rock band. They sound more Middle Eastern than anything else, which makes sense since Jewish music has roots there, and those exotic modes filtered east centuries, even millennia ago. The brainchild of star Pakistani chanteuse Zebunnisa Bangash and klezmer clarinet powerhouse Michael Winograd, the band also includes Dolunay violinist Eylem Basaldi, Klezmatics/Herbie Hancock drummer Richie Barshay, bassist David Lizmi (of bewitchingly noir cinematic band Karla Rose & the Thorns and Moroccan trance group Innov Gnawa), supersonic accordionist Patrick Farrell, and Israeli surf/metal/jazz guitarist Yoshie Fruchter. Their debut album is streaming at Storyamp, and they’ve got an album release show on May 11 at 7 PM at the big room at the Rockwood; cover is $12. After that, they’re at Barbes on May 16 at 7 PM where they debut their new Urdu poetry-inspired project The Pomegranate of Sistan, addressing “religious orthodoxy and nationalism across cultural divides.”

.While a lot of westerners may associate Pakistan with ghazals and qawwali, Sandaraa incorporate more rustic styles from remote regions of the country. The album’s opening track, Jegi Jegi Lailajan opens with an edgy Middle Eastern freygish riff and then slinks along on an undulating, syncopated groove, Bangash’s suspensefully enticing, air-conditioned delivery rising to warmer heights and then back to more pensive terrain. Who knew Barshay could play clip-clop south Asian percussion, or how effortlessly Fruchter would gravitate to the spiky phrasing of Pakistani rubab music?

Surrealistically blippy Their Majesties Satanic Request organ underscores Bangash’s expressive delivery as the band opens Mana Nele, then they ride Farrell’s pulsing, Qawwali-esque accordion waves, Basaldi and Winograd delivering achingly melancholy, Middle Eastern modal riffage in tandem.

Winograd opens Bibi Sanem Janem with a brief, starkly cantorially-inspired clarinet taqsim, then Fruchter pushes it along with his moody oud until Barshay’s tumbling qawwali groove and Farrell’s steady pulse take over. Winograd takes it out with a long, vividly austere, low-register solo.

A tenderly catchy, shapeshifting lullaby, Dilbarake Nazinim opens with an expansively rustic, pensive solo from Fruchter. The album winds up with the slinky, upbeat Haatera Tayiga, a jaunty mashup that best capsulizes the joyous stylistic brew this band manages to conjure: it’s amazing how much they manage to pack into a single song. As musical hybrids go, there hasn’t been an album this fun or full of surprises released this year.

Dolunay Raises the Bar for an Amazing Night of Music Downtown This Friday

More about that amazing lineup this Friday, January 15 at Alwan for the Arts at 16 Beaver St. in the financial district. As you may remember from yesterday’s piece here, the acts are slightly staggered, Lolapalooza style, on two stages, so that you – and the booking agents in town for this week’s convention – can sample all of them between 7:45 and around 11. The concert isn’t cheap – $30 – but the lineup is killer. Starting at 7:45 PM: on the fourth floor (the main space of this Arabic-diaspora cultural center), there’s singer Jenny Luna’s exhilarating Turkish/Balkan/Middle Eastern band Dolunay, followed an hour later by similarly intense Palestinian-American buzuq player Tareq Abboushi’s Shusmo art-rock/funk project, then the whirlwind Russian Crimean Tatar Ensemble at 9:45. Upstairs on the sixth floor, there’s wild southern Italian folk reinventors Newpoli at 8, then veteran Malian griot guitarist Abdoulaye Diabate at 9 and then at 10 Punjabi chanteuse Kiran Ahluwalia, who makes mystical, mysterious albums but is much more charismatic and animated onstage than you might expect.

Dolunay’s epic debut album, Our House, is streaming at Bandcamp. Over sixteen tracks, the band weave a bristling tapestry that runs the gamut from quiet and moody, to suspenseful and serpentine, to a sort of elegantly feral dancing quality. The material mixes traditional Turkish and Rumeli (Balkan-Turkish) songs as well as originals: without knowing which are which, it’s impossible to tell the band’s own material from the centutires-old songs in their repertoire. Bracing Middle Eastern modes, eerie chromatics and minor keys rise and fall, sometimes into a gentle, jangly backdrop that brings to mind traditions as diverse as Greek and Macedonian dances or Elizabethan British balladry.

When the band aren’t snaking or dancing their way through an instrumental, frontwoman/percussionist Jenny Luna’s spellbinding voice is front and center. Depending on the song, she can be austere and plaintive, or chillingly imploring, or jaunty and triumphant. Not a lot of the material on the album employs the flickering microtones common to a lot of Middle Eastern music, but it’s when Luna glides in and out of them that she resonates the most.

One of this city’s great fretted instrumentl players, Adam Good plays the oud with his usual incisive resonance, but he also takes a turn on the janglier, higher-register cumbus – the closest thing her to his original instrument, the electric guitar – as well as the less resonant, more plinky tambura. Violinist Eylem Basaldi matches the clarity and inciisveness of the vocals, with several wickedly spiraling, spine-tingling solos throughout the album – and adds her own vocal harmonies to the mix on its most ornate, memorable numbers. Alongside Luna, percussionists Polly Ferber propels the songs through thickets of tricky meters with a scampering grace or steady, minimialist insistence, employing n an assortment of drums from across the region. Turli Tava leader Jerry Kisslinger guests on standup drum on one of the later tracks.

Considering that it bridges the chord-based song structures of western music with the more improvisational, microtonal flair of the Middle East, Balkan music in general tends to be pretty exciting stuff and this album is a prime example: it’s hard to imagine a more enjoyable mix of songs put out by any New York band over the past several months. .

One of the Year’s Best Twinbills: Sandaraa and Raya Brass Band at Littlefield

This year good things come in twos. Granted, in a city with a population considerably beyond the official figure of eight million, it shouldn’t be hard to put a couple of good bands back to back, but the show back on May 23 at Littlefield was amazing even by this blog’s lofty standards. Sandaraa opened. They might be the most improbable and also the most original supergroup in town. Frontwoman Zebunnisa Bangash – a star in her native Pakistan – jumpstarted the band when she invited Michael Winograd – a klezmer luminary and one of the world’s most exhilarating clarinetists – to collaborate. The rest is history. They didn’t have to look far to fill out the rest of the lineup. This one included violinist Eylem Basaldi, accordionist Patrick Farrell, Yoshie Fruchter doubling on guitar and oud and longtime Klezmatic Richie Barshay on drums. And their sound – a mind-bending, sometimes hypnotic, sometimes propulsive mashup of Pakistani, Balkan and klezmer melodies – was like nothing else that’s been staged anywhere in town this year.

The band typically took their time launching into a groove, with pensive intros from Fruchter (on the oud – a rare treat), Basaldi and Winograd, the latter nonchalantly spiraling down in a shower of chromatic sparks. Farrell did much the same later in the set. Bangash varied her dynamics depending on the song, sometimes with a wounded resonance that brought to mind Eva Salina, other times with a meticulously modulated, melismatic approach. Polyrhythms and counterrythms were everywhere. One number had a tender lullaby quality; another teased the undulating crowd with the hint of a galloping qawwali rhythm, but never went there quite all the way. And although not everything was in minor keys, most of the songs had an apprehensive undercurrent, notably one number that the band spun along like an Irish reel before Basaldi led them into more moody territory with a stark violin solo. They closed with what sounded like a recent Punjabi hit, but with purist, acoustic production values.

Raya Brass Band headlined. For the last few years, they’ve been one of the most explosive party bands in town, sort of a punk Balkan brass jamband. Their metamorphosis into a sensationally tight, even elegant dancefloor group was stunning to witness. Almost imperceptibly, they followed a steady upward trajectory and took the crowd along with them, gathered on the floor around them, as the music led to a fiery peak with an Ethiopian-tinged groove. Don Godwin, the slinkiest tuba player in town, got to launch that one with a bristling minor-key riff – who would have guessed? And it worked like a charm.

This time out, the bandleaders took their time and put a lot of space between their solos, rather than duking it out in a bloody-knuckles match like they used to do. But it’s not like the band has tamed their sound – they’ve just introduced another level of dynamics and suspense. Nezih Antakli’s machinegunning standup drum riffs had the drive of a runaway train, but a steady one; accordionist Matthew “Max” Fass waited til the end before firing off one of the most adrenalizing, rapidfire solos of the night: getting to watch his fast fingers and also Farrell’s on the same stage on the same night was very cool.

As the set went on, the rhythms grew from a cumbia and reggae-tinged bounce to trickier Serbian and Macedonian-style metrics. After playing the voice of reason to the sax’s close-to-the-edge wail for most of the night, Syversen finally set off some fireworks of his own, going off on a searing, microtone-spiced tangent that left the crowd at a loss for words. And as much as the solos, and the chops, and the grooves is what draws the crowds, what might be most impressive is that most of Raya Brass Band’s songs are originals. It’s impossible to distinguish their own songs from the Balkan sounds that have influenced them so deeply. Somebody put these guys on a plane to Guca, Serbia for the trumpet festival next year and watch them give the locals a run for their money.

Full Moon Intensity with Dolunay

Although two of the members of Dolunay are Turkish, no one in the band grew up immersed in the haunting sounds of Turkish folk music. But the minute they began to explore it, they were hooked. The five-piece band specializes in the diverse styles played by people of Turkish descent throughout the Balkan nations. At an intimate show Friday night at the American Folk Art Museum, someone in the crowd asked how they discovered it, and one by one the group members responded. Frontwoman/percussionist Jenny Luna was intensely into Balkan music while in college, so this was a natural progression for her. Oudist/tamburist Adam Good was studying jazz guitar when he heard the first album by Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares, which became a gateway drug to the Middle East. Turkish-born violinist Eylem Basaldi was on the classical track in conservatory when she took a class in Turkish folk and rediscovered the sounds she’d first been exposed to as a child. Connell Thompson was inspired to return with a vengeance from the sax to his original instrument, the clarinet, when someone turned him on to Ivo Papasov. And percussionist Nezih Antakli was playing jazz in his native Germany before rediscovering his cultural roots. Together they make music that’s as magical and mysterious as the band name (Turkish for “full moon”) implies. And it’s a bit of a pun: Luna, Full Moon…you get it, right?

Luna sang with a stunning, raw plaintiveness while keeping time on a frame drum  throughout many difficult, shapeshifting meters, while Antakli grounded the low end of the percussion on his dumbek. Basaldi and Thompson frequently doubled their biting, eerie, chromatic lines over Good’s precise, resonant picking. Some of the songs reflected the influence of native traditions on Turkish themes: a Bulgarian song with strange and bracing overtones in the vocal melody; a hypnotic Madeconian dirge; a stately anthem with more than a hint of southern Greek melody; and a couple of gorgeously haunting, soaring, slinky numbers with a sweepingly majestic, Egyptian tinge. Good opened a couple of songs with brooding solo taqsims on the oud, switching to tambura for a spiky but resonant tune that went unexpectedly doublespeed at the end. Most of the lyrics, said Luna, were sad laments for lost love, i.e. “I came all the way across the mountains only to find you painting the town,” that kind of thing. And most of those sad tales were told from a guy’s point of view, so when Luna sang one particularly poignant lament from a woman’s perspective, it had special resonance. They closed with a lively, almost menacing dance lit up by Thompson’s feral, flickering waves of microtones. Dolunay are at Barbes at 7 PM on Oct 27; Luna is also singing material from across the Middle East on Oct 10 at 7 PM with the Jerry Bezdikian Ensemble at the Sullivan Room, 218 Sullivan St. a couple of doors down from Sullivan Hall.