New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: gogol bordello

20 Years of a Legendary Venue and a Legendary New York Punk Band

Is punk nostalgia an oxymoron? Or is a band’s refusal to calm down and be quiet something we should all aspire to? Gogol Bordello’s latest album, Seekers and Finders – streaming at Spotify – doesn’t pose those questions, but it offers a mighty, roaring answer.

Twenty years ago, the self-described gypsy punks – a term which ironically has become outdated – were a cult band playing midsize venues across the country. Since the band hadn’t yet embarked on their seemingly endless, global stadium tour, frontman Eugene Hutz frequently spun vinyl on Friday nights at Mehanata, the Bulgarian bar that was then located in a second-floor space at the corner of Canal and Broadway.

Those nights were insane – not just because of Hutz, or because it was the best dance party in town, but because in the early internet era, it was pretty much the only place in New York where you could hear Balkan turbo-folk music, at least playing over a good PA. Who would have thought that two decades later, Mehanata would still be in business – relocated to the Lower East Side – and that Gogol Bordello would still be together, let alone still vital?

The band don’t have any New York gigs coming up – their most recent was at a hideously overpriced corporate venue at the far fringes of Williamsburg – but Hutz is playing a very rare acoustic gig to celebrate Mehanata’s 20th anniversary on Feb 13. Doors are at 6, the party goes all night, Hutz is theoretically headlining – in a duo set with his Gogol Bordello bandmate Sergey Ryabtsev. Also on the bill are klezmer trumpeter Frank London with percussionist Deep Singh, Bulgarian sax titan Yuri Yunakov, accordion wizard Yuri Lemeshev and oudist Avram Pengas; other special guests are promised. Cover is $20; the first 200 through the door get a free Mehanata 20th anniversary t-shirt.

What does the new album sound like – in case you haven’t heard it? It’s a throwback to the2005 classic Gypsy Punks, arguably Gogol Bordello’s definitive statement (even though the word “gypsy” now has a connotation akin to “colored” – we are all better off saying “Romany”). The opening track, We Did It All comes across as a stomping Balkan brass number transposed to the electric guitars of Hutz and Boris Pelekh, with a characteristically surreal Hutz stream-of-consciousness lyrical interlude before the band explodes again.

Walking on the Burning Coals is a classic, metaphorical GB anthem spiced with brass, Sergey Ryabtsev’s violin and Pasha Newmer’s accordion over the guitar fury and the surprisingly slinky rhythm section: bassist Thomas Gobena and Alfredo Ortiz.

Break Into Your Higher Self is closer to 90s Warped Tour punk, with a typical Hutz exhortation to get with the revolutionary program. Harmony singer Vanessa Walters duets with Hutz on the singalong title track, followed by Familia Bonfireball and its unexpected spaghetti western tinges. Ryabtsev’s slithery violin pans the mix as it winds out.

Clearvoyance has a sotto-vocce bounce: “It’s like running from my prison of your mind,” resolutely solitary Hutz insists. Then the band picks up the pace with the album’s best track, the magnificently scorching, chromatically charigng Saboteur Blues. They keep the energy at redline with Love Gangsters, which begins as reggae tune as the Clash would have done it and builds from there. If I Ever Get Home Before Dark follows the same blueprint but more quietly.

Pedro Erazo-Segovia’s trippy, echoing charango kicks off You Know Who We Are before the big guitars kick in. The album ends with Still That Way, the band taking a stab at a big, dramatic Celtic ballad. After all these years, Gogol Bordello haven’t lost sight of a message that’s more relevant than ever: it’s never too late to party for our right to fight.

A Twistedly Relevant, Phantasmagorical Evening in Brooklyn with Orphan Jane

Orphan Jane brought a good crowd to the Knitting Factory Wednesday to watch them pounce and scamper through a tantalizingly brief, lurid set of noir cabaret and circus rock – on a night when the L train was shutting down early. Considering that their motley fans don’t seem like an Uber crowd – they’re a pretty diverse bunch – that’s all the more impressive.

What was most impressive was frontwoman Jessica Underwood AKA The Girl with No Name’s vocals. In the band’s early days, she worked a sardonically brassy, vampy persona. These days she’s Pirate Jenny on steroids. With her wide-angle vibrato, glass-shattering wail, razor bangs and crimson dress, she channeled pure menace. Guitarist Old Man Shorty (Dave Zydallis) and bassist The Gravedigger (Robert Desjardins) slunk and scurried and stabbed as singer Montana Slim (Tim Cluff) spun eerie Balkan-tinged minor-key chords from his accordion.

Underwood’s arioso firestorm rose over creepy, spiky artful-dodger guitar, red neon accordion waves and nonchalantly menacing chromatic trumpet from Daria McBean (Caitlin Featherstone) as the the first number got underway. “We don’t want a thing from you” became a sarcastic mantra. They followed with a twisted tale about a guy trying to pick up (very) underage girls – it’s their Aqualung, and also turned out to be the most Gogol Bordello-ish number of the night. As expected, Underwood took it way up to the rafters at the end.

The most straightforwardly murderous song of the night was Creepy Little Town, Underwood switching out the theatrics for raw evil, Zydallis’ stark monster-movie riffage anchoring its noir blues sway. They went back to the noir cabaret for the slashingly sarcastic The Banker, rising form a suspensefully tiptoeing intro to a big swinging harmony-fueled chorus. Cluff’s role in this band is sort of good cop to Underwood’s very bad one: “I’d prefer not” became his recurrent theme.

The next song, Diamonds and Caviar, was an unexpectedly Tex-Mex flavored conspicuous-consumption satire. The vernacular may have been Weimar, but the band definitely had the spend-and-Instagram crowd in their sights. “I can’t forget my mother, to hell with all the others,” Underwood snarled; “There will be clothes” was the mantra. The followed that with Strong – a fiery, towering female-empowerment anthem, with the HipSits’ Cherrye Davis and Kathleen Fletcher supplying spot-on satanic gospel harmonies – and then closed with the murderous Gatsby-gone-awry anthem The Mansion Song, the best and most cinematic narrative from their 2016 A Poke in the Eye album, Underwood unable to resist throwing a dis at Jared Kushner as it got underway. Kurt Weill, look at the monster you created. 

Insanely Eclectic Psychedelic Brass Band Intensity from the Dirty Bourbon River Show

Considering the Butcher Knives’ and Dirty Bourbon River Show’s output on record so far, you might think that their twinbill tonight at the Knitting Factory – which starts at 8:30 PM for a $12 cover – would be a bad segue. But it isn’t.  The openers’ guitar-driven, minor-key Gogol Bordello-style Romany rock makes a good setup for the New Orleans band’s more rustically raucous, canivalesque sound.

The Dirty Bourbon River Show’s latest album, The Flying Musical Circus, is aptly titled and streaming at Bandcamp. To sum things up, the brass-fueled five-piece group tackles Balkan and circus rock, reggae, Beatlesque psychedelia, soca, mariachi, oldtimey swing and gospel and pulls it off. If there’s a style of music that they can’t play, it probably hasn’t been invented yet. The opening track, Passion, is a brassy Balkan reggae tune, the bassline held down by Jimmy Williams’ sousaphone. Waltzing along with Noah Adams’ strutting electric piano and a dixieland-flavored horn chart, The Cruel and Hollow Fate of Time Travel takes an unexpected detour down a wormhole into Sergeant Pepper-era Beatles psychedelia.

“Everybody’s coming to my party, but I’m not fucking going to that party,” Adams insists in the funky All My Friends Are Dead. Matt Thomas overdubs cheery soca sax harmonies in Knockin’ on Your Headboard: it’s about watching out for “your crazy-ass dad and your crazy-ass mama,” who’d spoil the party if they could. My Name Is Soul is a scampering, surreal turn back to Balkan circus rock: “I’m in your mouth, I’m on your tongue, but you don’t know me,” you get the picture.

Hidalgo’s Lament is an unexpectedly biting, bittersweet, slowly swaying mariachi tune with a tantalizingly brief Adams accordion solo midway through. The steamboat soul tune Poor Boy, Rich Girl is as funny as you would expect: “Every leperchaun loves gold…you’re a circus, cartwheeling with no purpose.” Shark Belly, a pulsing Romany rock anthem, is even funnier: unleash your inner ten-year-old and laugh along with Adams’ litany of obscenities, echoed by the band, on the second verse.

Nick Garrison’s snaky trombone and Scott Graves’ tumbling drums anchor Roll It Around, a high-voltage stoner Balkan brass number. The album winds up with the gospel-infused title track, awash in mighty tasty horn harmonies, Adams’ accordion swirling amidst the storm. Definitely one of the ten best and most consistently fun albums to come over the transom here this year.

The Klezmatics Build Their Legacy With Yet Another Explosive, Eclectic Album

This new record has a song about slavery. another about the joys of being out and gay in an oppressive society, one about the murder of an innocent immigrant, along with a pretty wild drinking song, a bunch of dance numbers and a handful of dirges. Pretty relevant stuff, right? Is this hip-hop? Blues? New wave? None of the above. It’s the new Klezmatics album, Apikorsom/Heretics, streaming at Spotify. And it’s one of the best releases of 2016.

The Klezmatics are the Clash of klezmer. Back in the 80s, the Clash were the one punk band that pretty much everybody knew and loved, and the Klezmatics were their Jewish folk-punk counterparts – although their musicianship was always a cut above even the most talented punk rock band. There have been plenty of other innovators in traditional Jewish music from around the world, but most  – Dave Tarras, Manny Blanc and Prince Nazaroff, noteworthy among them – edged toward jazz. The Klezmatics, on the other hand, brought the transgressive energy of punk to a vast legacy of global Jewish sounds, and vice versa. The new album only further cements their reputation as innovators and instigators, a band whose influence long ago reached far beyond the klezmer demimonde. It’s safe to say that without the Klezmatics, there probably would be no Gogol Bordello and probably no World Inferno either.

The album opens on a trad note with Lisa Gutkin’s instrumental Der Geler Fink, her rapidfire violin against a suspensefully vamping pulse, then trumpeter Frank London and frontman/accordionist Lorin Sklamberg lead the band off on a scampering tangent. London flips the script and clarinetist Matt Darriau follows suit, wary and soulful, before the band brings the lightning back.

Zol Shoy Komen di Guele is a swaying, elegant take on a midtempo oompah groove, a song of redemption and salvation. The band moves to elegantly waltzing, brooding Ladino territory with the bitterly metaphorical Der Yokh (The Yoke) originally recorded by Lluis Llach in 1968: “Although it’s rotten and rusty, it grips us like pliers,” Sklamberg intones in the original Catalan.

The traditional Party in Odessa follows a bounce that’s just short of frantic: It’s a funny song, a peasant gone wild in the big city: “The guy with no suspenders is the one who loses his pants,” more or less. The band ramps it up doublespeed at the end.

Dark Is the Night, a new original with music by London features stark violin against mournful washes of accordion punctuated by spare cimbalom. If John Lennon had grown up in a shtetl somewhere in Eastern Europe, he might have written something like this.The title track is another London original; Sklamberg delivering a homoerotic Yiddish lyric over a happy bouncing melody that’s part early Beatles, part joyous shtetl stomp, taking an abrupt, welcome detour into a minor-key romp livened by the trumpeter’s terse, muted attack. Darriau’s Three-Ring Sirba is next, a bittersweet waltz fueled by the composer’s enigmatically sailing clarinet.

The bolero-tinged Vi Lang, London’s adaptation of David Edelstadt’s poem Vakht Oyf! sets Sklamberg’s understatedly imploring vocals against an elegantly slinky backdrop lowlit by funereal organ and latin-flavored horns, up to an uneasily shadowy, psychedelic outro underpinned by London’s insistent piano and Richie Barshay’s tumbling drums. Likewise, Sklamberg’s arrangement of Chava Alberstein’s Ver Firt Di Ale Shifn? (Who Guides the Ships?) has a moody late Beatlesque resonance and a boomy Barshay bolero beat. Then the band picks it up with the lickety-split Shushan Purim, contemplating the hangover of all hangovers. In case you’re wondering how to say “blotto” in Yiddish, the word is “farshnoshket.”

Green Violin, a London instrumental, has a dramatic ba-BUMP bounce and delicious Middle Eastern chromatics. Der Mames Spigl (Mama’s Mirror), a minimalist dirge by Gutkin with lyrics by Masha Shtuker-Paiuk, grimly contemplates the ravages of age. Even grimmer is the swaying, ominously Turkish-flavored murder ballad Tayer Yankele (Poor Yankele), Paul Morrisett’s guitar steady as the whole band builds a haunted call-and-response. It’s the album’s most epic and arguably best number.

The band handles the traditional, chromatically fueled dance Shtetl MO with a bouncy restraint that explodes on the chorus and then builds to a lickety-split romp as the horns blaze. The album winds up with Mazltov, a tender folk-rock waltz. Over the decades, the Klezmatics have put out some great albums and this one is probably in the top three along with their 2011 Live at the Town Hall album and their iconic 1997 collection, Possessed. The band are currently on US tour; their next show is at the Freight & Salvage, 2020 Addison St. in Berkeley, CA on Dec 21 at 8 PM. Advance tix are $28.

Black Masala Bring Their Deliriously Fun, Edgy Brass-Fueled Dancefloor Intensity to Drom

Black Masala are sort of the Washington, DC counterpart to Slavic Soul Party. They play an intoxicatingly edgy blend of Romany, Indian, Afrobeat, circus rock and hard funk dancefloor grooves. Their brassy attack features lots of biting minor keys and slinky rhythms. They’re bringing their high-voltage live show to Drom on June 10 at 11:30 PM. Advance tix are $10.

Their latest album I Love You Madly is streaming at Bandcamp. The title track opens with a swaying hi-de-ho noir swing theme and then hits a brisk Romany punk strut ablaze with the brass harmonies of trumpeter Steven C, trombonist Kirsten Warfield and Monty Montgomery’s pinpoint sousaphone pulse.

Drummer Mike Ounallah gives Too Hot to Wait an oldschool Earth Wind & Fire-style disco groove, the guys in the band trading vocals with percussionist Kristen Long, who delivers a coyly whispery Jane Birkin-style boudoir interlude as the song winds out. Guitarist Duff Davis drives the hypnotic but explosive Bhangra Ramo with his stinging upper-register riffage, akin to Red Baraat with a woman out front.

Cool Breeze adds hard funk edges, a lustrous EW&F sheen and spacy George Clinton psychedelia to a fiery minor-key Balkan brass instrumental. Sounds of the Underground, the album’s most straight-up, catchy number, is a pouncing latin rock-tinged number that wouldn’t be out of place in the Karikatura catalog, Davis’ nimble Django solo giving way to tightly wound spots from trumpet and sax.

Devil Sunset opens as Balkan reggae and then vamps along on a trippy disco beat, with plenty of sizzling riffage from the horns: it isn’t til the end that you realize that it’s mostly a one-chord jam. With its uneasy chromatics and staccato brass, the album’s arguably best number, Haute Cultura has both the catchiness and the edge of Serbian groups like Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar. The swinging, funky Oh No What Can I Do? makes a good segue from there as the band sprints to the finish line. The album winds up with a “radio edit” of the title cut. Nine songs, every one of them excellent, one of the best dozen releases to come over the transom here in the past several months.

 

Conspiracy of Venus Bring Their Artful Polyphonic Fun to Three NYC Shows

The thirty women of Conspiracy of Venus comprise one of the world’s most original and captivating choral groups. They’re sister to mighty all-male Leonard Cohen chorale A Conspiracy of Beards, specializing in ethereal, labyrinthine-voiced versions of rock and Americana songs. Their richly imaginative, innovative debut album – streaming at Bandcamp – is wryly titled Muse Ecology (say it fast if you don’t get it the first time around). They’re the centerpiece of the one of the year’s best triplebills, on May 21 at around 10 at the Jalopy. Two of the most unpredictably fun singers in newschool oldtime Americana, resonator guitarist/songwriter Mamie Minch and Brain Cloud frontwoman Tamar Korn open the night at 9, then fiery and often devastatingly funny klezmer punk band Golem – who are sort of the Jewish Gogol Bordello – headline at around 11. Cover is $10. In case you can’t make it to the magical Jalopy, Conspiracy of Venus are also at the big room at the Rockwood on May 20 at 7 for $10, then on the 22nd they’re at Highline Ballroom at noon for $12 in advance.

The album’s opening track, Wildwood, by the group’s director Joyce Todd McBride, begins as a stately, almost marching piece backed by bossa-tinged acoustic guitar. It’s probably the most lushly arranged folk-pop song ever recorded, its artful counterpoint expanding as the song goes on. You could call it a choral counterpart to what Sara McDonald is doing with big band jazz arrangements. Backed by minimal vibraphone and percussion, they make gentle but potent antique gospel out of Tom Waits’ Jockey Full of Bourbon. Once again, the counterpoint gets more intricate as the song goes along, low individual voices alternating below the pillowy highs. It’s all the creepier for being so low-key, like the Swingle Singers doing Procol Harum.

Bowie’s Life on Mars gets a lithely pointillistic treatment that follows the lyrics’ surrealistic tangent up to a sweeping peak. Cohen’s Dance Me to the End of Love follows an artful arrangement from a balletesque pulse, to swing, then echoes of country gospel. Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi has bass and drums anchoring a buoyantly sweet, charmingly swinging chart that plays up the lyrics’ crushing sarcasm. Later on they put an enigmatically intense, tropically-infused spin on another Joni number, Black Crow. The album’s most raptly renaissance-tinged track is McBride’s setting of Berthold Brecht’s The Buddha’s Parable of the Burning House.

Another McBride tune, In the Bud reverts to the opening track’s airy bossa-pop. Then the group makes lavish polyphony out of Iris DeMent’s lilting Appalachian-flavored Let the Mystery Be. As you might guess, the most playfully avant garde-flavored number is Bjork’s coy Possibly Maybe, shifting almost imperceptibly into an oldschool soul groove. They go back to the Cohen book for an irresistibly dancing, surreal, fun version of I’m Your Man and then wind it all up with a similarly funny reggae version of Bjork’s Venus As a Boy. What a blissfully entertaining album!

Figli Di Madre Ignota: One of Europe’s Funniest and Funnest Bands

Figli Di Madre Ignota (Italian for “Nobody’s Children,” more or less) are hilarious. The Milan-based circus rock band’s most obvious reference point is Gogol Bordello, but although there’s a frenetic Romany punk side to their sound, they’re more heavily influenced by Balkan and Turkish music. Some of their lyrics are in English, and those have the kind of surreal humor you would expect in the styles they play. But their Italian lyrics are the bomb, full of sarcastic puns, double entendres and intricate rhyme schemes. Their latest album, Bellydancer – streaming at Soundcloud – is a party in a box. If you consider yourself a fun person, you need to know about it – which is why it’s on this page today, over a year after these friendly people sent it here.

The obvious thought before writing this was, is this band still alive or did they go to Lynyrd Skynyrd Land? Happily, they are very much alive, and flourishing, and playing the Offenburg Brewery Festival in Pietra Ligure, Italy at 10 PM on August 29. The album’s first track is Istanbul, which rocks out a menacing chromatic riff – at halfspeed or quarterspeed, this could be doom metal, but this irrepressible band won’t settle for doom. The title track – in English – adds Mediterranean flavor to big 80s stadium-rock theatrics, fueled by the twin guitars of Marco “Pampa” Pampaluna and Massimiliano “Pitone” Unali. “If all you dancers were the resistance, girl, we’d need no war, no revolution,” frontman Stefano “Iasko” Iascone shouts.

The metaphorically charged Mediterranean Voodoo, built around a searing Turkish guitar riff over a tricky dance rhythm, contemplates the weight of centuries of history, much of it ugly. One of the album’s funniest songs, Escargantua, makes merciless fun of the French: their food fixation, literary pretentions and imperialist tendencies. It’s akin to an Italian take on Les Sans Culottes. Here’s a rough translation of the first verse:

Look, there’s Flaubert eating camembert
With D’Alembert, but Diderot
What is he doing? He’s drinking Pernod to death, with Hugo
“Leave some for me,” Hercule Poirot screams to him
“But you don’t even exist! Everybody knows that,”
Voltaire and Rousseau tell him

Sex Music Pasta is sort of the band’s theme song: it’s a delicious, chromatically bristling Balkan dancefloor stomp, Iascone leading a blazing trumpet section as the guitars roar and a cimbalom ripples eerily in the background. Guest Valentina Cariulo’s edgy violin drives Show Me the Way, which rises from dubwise Balkan reggae to a deliriously pulsing dance. Alternativo, a minor-key disco number, makes fun of trendoids and wannabes and is another really funny one. Another rough translation:

A little savings to live on
You play vinyl and you hang out backstage
What is fair is fair if
You choose not to choose

Tagliatella Punk is a swaying, electrified tarantella, talking truth to power about the timeworn bread-and-circuses situation at home:

Christmas movie releases, and radioactive waste,
Government crises, and celebrity gossip
Money for tanks but not for the earthquake victims…

Caravan Petrol follows a similarly edgy, bouncy tangent. Guest chanteuse Francesca Sottocasa sings Vegan in the Fridge, a wryly satirical go-go number and a slap at extremists from everywhere on the spectrum. But dudes, do you really have to put the vegan in there with the klansman and the theocons and Dianetics?

The album winds up with A Me Non Piace Niente (I Don’t Like Anything), a riotous early 21st century broadside directed at reality tv, social media, “dj culture,” trash fiction, plastic surgery, you name it. “The truth about stupid people is that you can measure them in inches,” Iascone observes. This slightly Beatlesque tarantella punk number has to be one of the best songs released in any language in the past few years – as is this album. Why was it not covered here earlier? Um…blame that computer crash here last spring.

Big Lazy’s Don’t Cross Myrtle – Best Album of 2014

Film composer/guitarist Stephen Ulrich has been on some kind of roll lately. He scored the Academy Award-shortlisted documentary Art and Craft with characteristically vivid noir unease. His one-off album with his cinematic instrumental project Ulrich Ziegler, with ex-Pink Noise guitarist Itamar Ziegler, was rated best album of 2012 here. Most recently, Ulrich has regrouped his legendary noir instrumental trio Big Lazy, who set the bar as far as menacing reverbtone guitar cinematics are concerned. The title of their latest album, Don’t Cross Myrtle – streaming at Spotify – is a creepy deep-Brooklyn reference, and it’s apt. Pound for pound, it’s the best album of 2014.

Some backstory: the group broke up in 2007. Meanwhile, Ulrich continued on with a semi-rotating cast of characters including drummer Yuval Lion, who ended up sticking around for this project along with prominently ubiquitous bassist Andrew Hall, who’s never played with more stygian intensity than he does here. The new album covers all the desolate, shadowy, knifes-edge territory that previous incarnations of the band have evoked since their iconic 1996 debut, Amnesia, released under the name Lazy Boy (the reason for the name change is a sick and hilarious indictment of American corporate fascism). And this unit turns out to be the best version of the band, ever, surpassing even the slinky menace of Ulrich’s original trio with Paul Dugan on bass and Willie Martinez on drums.

The opening track, Minor Problem, is a a twisted tango, Ulrich tracing a sleaze-infested trail with his guitar and then his lapsteel over a misterioso clatter from Lion as Hall holds it all together. The slowly undulating Unswerving blends Charlie Giordano’s accordion into Ulrich’s spaciously eerie chromatics for a tinge of Peter Lorre-era musette. The Low Way opens as a jauntily swinging, Bill Frisell-esque highway theme, but Ulrich wastes no time edging it toward the shadows: it’s sort of the reverse image of Junction City, the one relatively easygoing track on the band’s debut.

Human Sacrifice makes horror surf out of a flamenco theme – with its savage clusters and sudden dips and swells, it’s one of the most suspenseful tracks here, and a real showstopper live. Black Sheep brings back the pastoral flavor with a muted, psychedelic sarcasm – Lion’s snorting barnyard flurries on the drums are irresistibly funny. Avenue X – another Brooklyn reference and a popular title in the horror surf demimonde – revisits the murky, dubby depths that Ulrich explored for awhile about ten years ago, with a snide, faux-blithe trumpet cameo from Sexmob‘s Steven Bernstein.

Night Must Fall motors along on an ominously sketchy ghoulabilly shuffle groove in the same vein as classic late 90s Big Lazy tracks like Princess Nicotine and Just Plain Scared, hitting a similarly explosive, jagged peak. The single best cut here is the funereal waltz Swampesque, Lion and Hall shadowing Ulrich’s alternately lingering and icepicking lines. Bring Me the Head of Lee Marvin pairs crime-scene guitar with guest Peter Hess’s brooding baritone sax over an almost imperceptibly shapeshifting groove.

The album’s title track is also its funniest, a ba-BUMP stripper theme that the band, and Bernstein again, fire poison darts at with considerable relish. Whereabouts takes a balmy jazz ballad deep into Twin Peaks territory; the album winds up with a bonus track, Lunch Lady, a narrative that turns on a dime from bouncy and bluesy to murderous. Throughout the album, Ulrich and the rhythm section pepper the shadowy cinematics with bits of black humor and the occasional devious quote – Hendrix, the Mission Impossible theme and allusions to Nino Rota’s Fellini soundtracks, a well that Ulrich has drawn deeply from over the years. Obviously, picking this album over similarly brilliant if stylistically unrelated releases by Jennifer Niceley, Robin Aigner, Paul Wallfisch’s Ministry of Wolves and Arborea (all of whom you may see on this page in the near future, hint hint) is completely subjective. It’s like choosing Sergeant Pepper over Are You Experienced in 1967, or Public Enemy over Sonic Youth in 1987. If you buy the idea that somebody has to make that call, this album makes it a no-brainer.

Litvakus Rescue Some of the Funnest Songs Ever Written

Onstage at the Center for Jewish Culture last week, Litvakus came across as a sort of acoustic Gogol Bordello, playing an exhilarating and frequently haunting mix of feral dances and haunting dirges. Frontman Dmitri Zisl Slepovitch bobbed and weaved and bounced as he played, firing off frenetic volleys or mournfully sustained notes on a series of clarinets, svirel – the Belorussian equivalent of a shawm – and dudka. As ambassador for the lost Jewish sounds of his native Belarus and also Polesia – the mysterious, rustic area bordering Belarus, Ukraine, Poland and what is now Lithuania – he held the crowd rapt. His mission to rescue decades-old and sometimes centuries-old songs led him to buck the authorities as he earned his doctorate in musicology in his hometown of Minsk, where he founded the city’s first klezmer revival band, Minsker Kapelye. With a gleam in his eye, he related that the band’s first gig, at a street fair, had been across the street from the local KGB headquarters. That group managed to get through the set without being hassled: New York is not the only city where that’s likely to happen to musicians on the street.

Sam Weisenberg played marching-band style, his bass drum strapped around his shoulders, a cymbal on top. Bassist Taylor Bergren-Crisman bowed his lines much of the time, adding a dark undercurrent to the lushness of much of the music in tandem with violinist Craig Judelman and once-and-future Chicha Libre accordiionist Josh Camp. The songs bristled with stark minor keys, eerie chromatics and the occasional odd meters (5/4 seemed to be a favorite of this band). They opened with a bracing reel with a Celtic tinge to it and closed on an unexpectedly pensive note. A handful of the songs in their roughly hourlong set juxtaposed brightly dancing verses with more moody, intense choruses. Slepovitch sang a couple of numbers drawing on the lyrics of celebrated Belorussian poet Hersh Reles. There were plenty of solos from everybody, including a handful of slowly unwinding improvisations to begin a small handful of songs and plenty of clapalongs from the audience, a mix of emigres and an energized younger crowd.

And much as the songs had a distinctly Jewish character, Slepovitch was quick to acknowledge how much cross-pollination there’s been over the decades in ethnic music from his part of the world – and how Jews were so often the catalyst. And he introduced a little controversy via a jaunty, pulsing Belorussian folk song, Khayka-Zhydouka, whose title translates in Russian as a slur against Jewish women. In an interesting Q&A after the show with the CTMD‘s Pete Rushefsky, Slepovitch revealed that in Belorussian, the word simply means “Jewish girl,” (or in the context of the song, “hot Jewish girl”). And he reminded that throughout the Soviet Union, Belorussian was repressed just as cruelly as Yiddish and other ethnic languages. People were literally killed for speaking them. No wonder so many of the evening’s songs were left on wax cylinders in archives, waiting for guys like Slepovitch to discover them. Litvakus are at Barbes tomorrow night, Nov 4 at around 7 if you’d like to hear the acoustic Gogol Bordello in a small club; the larger, horn-driven but similarly fun Slavic Soul Party play afterward at 9.

Boban i Marko Markovic Bring Undiluted Serbian Brass Intensity to NYC This Weekend

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.