New York Music Daily

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Tag: izaak Mills

Wild, Crazy, Deep Danceable Sounds at Last Night’s Borscht Ball in Bushwick

The dancing crowd at last night’s second annual Borscht Ball at Paperbox in Bushwick got to watch singer Svetlana Shmulyian – who has a gig with her bittersweetly torchy, cosmopolitan swing jazz band the Delancey Five coming up at Lucille’s on June 24 at 8 – sing coyly quirky old Soviet pop songs from the 60s in her native tongue, with a knowing happy-hour gleam in her eye.

They got to hear klezmer firebrand Daniel Kahn – who’s got a gig tonight at Joe’s Pub at 9:30 – unveil an obscure old Russian tune he’d never played before, which he’d just translated on the way down from Utica with fellow singer Psoy Korolenko. The gist of it was, “If the devil won’t take me, how about your bed.” Kahn had matched his English rhyme scheme to the original, quite a feat.

They got to pogo and linedance and twirl around the room as the Klezmatics aired out a fiery, characteristically ambitious series of new songs from their long-awaited forthcoming album. They got to see a parade of some of the world’s most sought-after talent in Jewish roots music – irrepressible Litvakus clarinetist/singer Dmitri Zisl Slepvovitch and charismatic Golem bandleader Annette Ezekiel Kogan among them – beat a path on and off the stage as the music shifted from defiantly joyous, to wounded angst, to full-throttle klezmer punk.

The festival’s raison d’etre is to provide a snapshot of the many different flavors of klezmer punk from around the world. If you think that’s a little esoteric, consider that there are hundreds of bands who would have fit this bill. If the Klezmatics weren’t the first, they opened the floodgates and have since inspired more than a generation of musicians. Playing their thirtieth anniversary show, they drew on sounds as disparate as Romanian, Turkish, Ukrainian and Catalan folk traditions while adding their signature firepower and jazz sophistication. Trumpeter Frank London played his usual, alternately crystalline and ferociously elephantine trumpet with his right hand while doing catchy arpeggios and comping chords on organ with his left. Matt Darriau ripped through careening postbop jazz on tenor sax and spun off spirals on clarinet over the stampeding, sometimes vaudevillian pulse of drummer Richie Barshay and bassist Paul Morrissett while frontman/accordionist Lorin Sklamberg sang in Yiddish, Russian and English. At the end of their sizzling opening set, he told the crowd that they’d be back, and by the end they pretty much all were, joining the members of Opa in careening versions of well-loved classics like Limonchiki and Bei Mir Bist Du Shein.

Brooklyn supergroup Svetlana and the Eastern Blokhedz – Shmulyian backed by bandleader Wade Ripka on guitar, his Greek Judas bandmates Quince Marcum on horn and vocals and Nick Cudahy on bass, Isaak Mills on guitar, sax and glockenspiel, Choban Elektrik‘s Jordan Shapiro and Las Rubias Del Norte‘s Allyssa Lamb on keys, and Slavic Soul Party‘s Chris Stromquist on drums – kept the dancers on their feet, opening and eventually closing with psychedelic garage pop that sounded straight out of France, 1969. Who says the Russians ever outgrew their French fixation, anyway? From there Shmulyian led them nimbly and warmly through a Russian pop counterpart to Dancin’ in the Rain, to nostalgic salutes to motherhood and romance and eventually a Soviet equivalent of “Celebrate good times, c’mon!” True to form, their deadpan version of the Ventures’ Cold War instrumental classic Spudnik was irresistibly funny in context.

Making their U.S. debut, eclectic Russian band  Opa headlined and offered an unstoppably kinetic take on many of the directions klezmer continues to expand into. With tenor saxophone, trumpet, trombone, guitar, bass and drums going full force, they opened with a catchy old Russian riff that they built into straight-ahead oldschool disco. From there the band romped back and forth through time, vocally and instrumentally, flavored with acidic no wave guitar, Talking Heads funk and maybe a little Gang of Four. As the special guests made their way to the stage until there wasn’t much room left up there, the group took a detour into the tropics with some rocksteady, a couple of snaky klezmer cumbia mashups, a bit of Balkan reggae, hints of salsa and then a rousing return to the classics at the end of four nonstop hours of music. By then most of the oldsters – an impressive number, considering how deep in the ‘Shweck the venue is – had gone home, leaving the floor to the kids, many of them couples, who’d spent pretty much the entire time on their feet. By then it was as if the music itself had taken on a personality of its own, overjoyed to be brought back from death’s door in the nick of time.

Que Vlo-Ve Bring Haunting, Edgy Greek Crime Rhymes and Revolutionary Anthems to Barbes

Que Vlo-Ve aren’t the only band in town who play haunting, Turkish-influenced Greek revolutionary songs and hash-smoking anthems from the 20s and 30s, but they’re one of the best. Right now they’ve got three singles up at Bandcamp as free downloads, which offer an intriguing glimpse of the kind of material they’re likely to air out at their upcoming show at Barbes on Nov 26 at 8 PM. The first song, O Psilos, shows off the lively, upbeat side of their music. The second, Ferte Preza Na Prezaro, dances along with forceful Greek vocals from frontman/percussionist Quince Marcum and biting chromatics from violinist Maya Shanker and guitarists Wade Ripka and Izaak Mills. The most recent one, To Baglamadaki Spase is slower and more brooding.

At their previous Barbes show, Marcum told the audience that although it would be overly reductionistic to explain this music as something created by a clash between stoners and drunks, there’s some truth to that. The backstory is that when the Turkish dictatorship kicked its indigenous Greek population out of Smyrna right before World War I, those people once again found themselves outcasts once they’d made it to Greece since their expatriate culture differed in many ways from what was the rule on the mainland. As a soundtrack to their demimonde, which helped fuel the Greek underground resistance to their own repressive dictatorship, they invented rembetiko, the so-called “Greek gangster blues” that draws heavily on ominous, Middle Eastern sounds from Turkey and points further east.

Marcum intoned in an expressive baritone as Shanker and Ripka passed a spiky baglama lute back and forth. One airy song concerned a guy trying to impress a hot girl with how cunning a linguist he is – he speaks both Greek and Turkish, plus, since she’s Jewish, a little Ladino. Another, The Knife Fight offered a tale of death and retribution in the criminal underworld: hip-hop themes go back a lot further than Biggie Smalls. The chorus of one murky, hypnotic tune reminded how it takes a stoner to know a stoner: a Greek take on When You’re a Viper, more or less. A little later they played an even more hypnotic tune, a drug smuggler’s sea chantey of sorts.

Ripka opened a couple of numbers with slowly unfolding, mysterious guitar improvisations, one on baglama. Shanker’s soaring violin carried most of the big crescendos and the occasional departure into otherworldly Arabic microtones. The funniest number was The Flea, a deviously dancing tune: Marcum explained that its gist is, “I will penetrate you and keep you awake, just like you keep me awake all night.” For the sake of the non-Greek speakers in the crowd, that context added a dimension too often missing at performances of this kind of esoterica.

What does Que Vlo-Ve mean? That’s not clear. However, there once was a scholarly journal of Apollinaire studies with that same name.