New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

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A Rare Brooklyn Show by One of New York’s Funnest, Most Esoteric, Psychedelic Bands

As far as esoteric jambands go, Tribecastan have few if any rivals. The group’s ringleaders, multi-instrumentalists John Kruth and Jeff Greene have led a rotating cast of characters since this wild, psychedelic beast first made its appearance on the streets of lower Manhattan about a half-dozen years ago. To try to pigeonhole or categorize them would be useless. Like their closest comparison, Hazmat Modine, jazz is a frequent reference point, but where that group uses horns, this crew employs a vast arsenal of central Asian, Middle Eastern and African stringed and percussion instruments along with a rock rhythm section. And they’re funny – if Spike Jones and Juan Esquivel aren’t direct influences, they’re distant relatives. The group’s latest album, Goddess Polka Dottess – streaming at Bandcamp – is their most straightforward and psychedelic rock-oriented release. They’ve got a rare Brooklyn show coming up this Friday, Sept 9 at 8 PM at Shapeshifter Lab; cover is $12.

Tribecastan also distinguish themselves as one of New York’s most prolific bands. The latest album is a bit of a change from their previous output in that most of the songs are by Kruth. The opening number, Repo Rodeo follows a droll, cartoonish, cajun-flavored sprint fueled by Kruth’s mandolin, Greene’s vibraphone, the horns of baritone saxophonist Claire Daly, trumpeter John Turner, alto saxophonist Premik Russell Tubbs and trombonist Chris Morrow until keyboardist Kenny Margolis leads them down a Middle Eastern rabbit hole. From there the group keeps the Middle Eastern noir psychedelia going with Konjo – the first of two songs by Greene here – driven by Kruth’s watery electric mando and Eric Halvorson’s tumbling drums.

Bassist Ray Peterson’s snappy riff opens Bangalorious, a wry mashup of latin soul and Bollywood – a sitar, played by Kruth, finally makes a cameo. Vagabundo is an unlikely successful hybrid of creepy klezmer and dub ska – imagine a Belorussian James Bond theme. The even more macabre Charnel Waltz brings to mind Kruth’s other, more stripped-down group, Villa Delirium.

Majestic Ganesh, one of the band’s few vocal numbers, pokes playful, Beatlesque fun at the Indian pantheon. The band takes a turn into brassy psych-funk with Trouble in a Fur Coat and follow that with the silly calyspo flute tune Myrtle & Mable. Then they march through the somewhat subtler Zoli’s Strut, with its microtonal banks of Asian reed instruments.

The Mahakala Stomp, Greene’s second track here, is a catchy hi-de-ho swing number with boisterous solos all around. (you’ll have to supply the band intros yourself). The Surfing Swami makes a return to Beatlesque Indian psychedelia, followed by Kilopatra, the album’s best and most Middle Eastern track, awash in uneasy, icy mando, snakecharmer flute and biting banjo. The next track, Borislav, a slinky Balkan brass tune with a hilariously over-the-top break that’s too funny to give away here, is another real winner. Constantly shifting from one instrument to another, Tribecastan are very entertaining to watch onstage, with Kruth affecting a mad pied-piper-on-acid persona.

Tribecastan Rocks the NY Gypsy Festival

The New York Gypsy Festival is still going on: there’s a ton of pretty wild, eclectic stuff happening through the end of the month, most of it at Drom under the loose rubric of Romany music. Tonight’s show featured kitchen-sink instrumentalists Tribecastan, who have four albums to their credit and literally span the globe, stylistically speaking. But onstage, the massive ten-piece band came across as a high-voltage circus rock act, driven more by horns than by the layers and layers of exotic stringed instruments they employ in the studio. What’s the likelihood of seeing Matt Darriau two nights in a row in two vastly different places? Not bad, if you know where to go. He was onstage here, playing clarinet and alto sax alongside a trombone, cornet, bass, drums, multi-percussion and multi-keys, with the band’s flamboyant frontman, John Kruth, firing off sizzling runs on electric mandolin when he wasn’t on mandola, banjo or flute. The other member of the band’s brain trust, Jeff Greene, stood nonchalantly in the corner, switching from a banjo-like lute that he sat and bowed, to what looked like a cajon with keys, to vibraphone (and was sadly not very high in the mix throughout the show.

They opened with a vigorously vamping soul organ groove and wound up with a couple of long, hypnotically funky, distantly Central Asian-tinged jams, the latter with a mantra delivered ecstaticaly by Kruth as he fervently egged on his bandmates to take the song completely over the edge. It took the festival’s prime mover, Serdar Ilhan, to finally give an emphatic signal that it was time for the next band. As psychedelic as all of this was, the songs in the middle of the set were the best. A similarly hypnotic, flute-driven waltz featured a rap interlude that didn’t go anywhere, but the tricky, reed-driven Macedonian-flavored dance afterward did. They followed that with an unexpectedly quiet detour and then an absolutely haunting, brooding bolero, Darriau’s alto sax hitting a big crescendo early on, Greene’s flute against fluttering, interwoven reeds as Kruth anchored it with his spiky banjo lines.

Greene open the next number with a droll jawharp solo, then the song built to an anthemic disco groove, something akin to Hazmat Modine (a band these guys often resemble) destroying a song by Chic. They took that vibe to the Balkans with a reggae-ish pulse, then hit the show’s high point with The Road to Koprivnica, another brooding but lively bolero with some sizzling clarinet from Darriau and even more sizzling, spiraling, intensely Middle Eastern electric mando from Kruth. The drummer broke his snare on the woozy but hard-rocking surf song Communist Modern – a standout track from the band’s latest album New Songs from the Old Country – then went as deep into the funk as you can go in, say, Uzbekhistan. Which is the irony of this band: if they actually were from Uzbekhistan instead of New York, all the blogs would be going nuts over how postmodern and paradigm-shifting this band is. Where this band needs to be, if they can afford it, is the jamband circuit and some summer festivals, where the hippie kids would go nuts over them as well.

Tribecastan’s New Songs from the Old Country: Their Trippiest, Best Album

Tribecastan’s fourth album New Songs from the Old Country is their best, most focused, and darkest release, one of this year’s most amazingly eclectic and trippy collections. The whole thing is streaming at the group’s Bandcamp page. Their 2009 debut Strange Cousin introduced them as a kitchen-sink band doing genre-smashing instrumental mashups of styles from the Mediterranean to the East Indies and all points in betweeen, employing a museum’s worth of exotic stringed and wind insturments. Their 2010 release Five Star Cave moved a little closer to jazz, while 2012’s New Deli went more in a rock direction. So this is a return to their roots, spread as far across the globe as they are, like a giant magic mushroom. As usual, the band’s brain trust, John Kruth and Jeff Greene take their pick of the choicest, most obscure insturments: mandocello, octave mandolin, yayli tambor, African raft zither, baglamas, charango: the list goes on and on.

Thre’s an awful lot to like here: sixteen tracks in all. The opening number, Bwiti is a dead ringer for Tuatara with its hypnotic clip-clop percusssion and spiky lutes, a catchy blues tune with Asian tinges and a lively horn chart with Claire Daly’s baritone sax anchoring Matt Darriau’s alto. Auto Rickshaw layers a thicket of lutes over Ray Peterson’s slinky bassline and Kenny Margolis’ swirly organ, with a break for sitar and a droll jawharp boinging underneath. Their version of Satie’s Gnossienne No. 1 nicks the Chicha Libre arrangement right down to the bolero rhythm, a wood flute replacing Josh Camp’s Electrovox; still, it’s a great song.

Dance of the Terrible Bear is a characteristically surreal mashup of Balkan brass, dixieland and bluegrass. Corned Beef and Sake does the same with an Irish reel, hi-de-ho jump blues and atmospheric Japanese folk. Communist Modern, fueled by Margolis’ sardonic keyboards and a lushly cinematic arrangement, is a dead ringer for surf rock legends Laika & the Cosmonauts.

Night Train to the Ukraine builds from a suspenseful, drony intro to a darkly scampering, chillingly chromatic woodwind tune. Gordana’s Dream brings back the Tuatara vibe with its gamelanesque, anxiously pointillistic ambience. Saloniki Reb marches along with a haunting Turkish melody played first on baglama (is that a baglama or another artifact from the museum?) and then clarinet, then suddenly the sun comes out and the tune picks up. The band stays on the Balkan track with the lively, pulsing, deviously catchy Road to Koprivnica

Adrian’s Leap is another mashup, this one blending bluegrass, the Balkans and the blues with a bit of an Indonesian tinge and a starkly searing solo on a fiddle of some kind. The Blue Sky of Your Eyes sets a bluegrass baglama tune to a bhangra beat, with bluesy harmonica. Natal Spring takes a bolero to the plains of South Africa, while.Kepaci Rain, the most hypnotic tune here, pairs off Gordana Evacic’s cimbalom against jaw harp and wood flute. Blame It on the Moon is not the jazz standard but a moodily strolling bolero with a lush blend of mandolin, lutes and horns. The final cut, Persian Nightingale, opens as a hypnotically clanging dirge and rises to majestically swirling heights  Among similarly inclined global jambands, only Hazmat Modine compare to these guys. Tribecastan play the album release show for this one this Fri, Sept 27 at 7:15 at Drom; advance tix are just $10.