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Tag: Kenny Warren trumpet

Wild Balkan Brass Icons Slavic Soul Party Stage a Queens Blowout

How cool is it when you find out you were in the crowd when one of your favorite bands was making a a live album? This blog was in the house on August 20, 2019 when Brooklyn’s best-loved Balkan brass band, Slavic Soul Party recorded a handful of tunes which appear on their latest concert record, streaming at Bandcamp.

What was the show like? Blurry. That was one wild night. If you missed it – or the mostly-weekly Tuesday night series in Park Slope that they played for the better part of sixteen years before the 2020 lockdown – you can hear them outdoors on August 2 at 7 PM at Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City. You can take the 7 to Vernon-Jackson, walk to 48th Ave. and take it straight to the river, or take the G to 21st/Van Alst, take 45th Ave. as far toward the water as you can and then make a left.

Back in 2016, Slavic Soul Party put out a deviously erudite Balkan brass remake of Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite, and the opening number, Amad opens this record. Accordionist Peter Stan provides an intro to this version, from March of the following year, launching a suspenseful river of sound, then torrents of chromatics, then the brass kick in over the clip-clip beat of Matt Moran’s bubanj. Tapan drummer Chris Stromquist keeps a slinky groove going on as the horns pulse closer and closer to New Orleans.

Nizo’s Merak, from one of the band’s last pre-lockdown shows there in November, 2019, begins as one of the Balkan/hip-hop mashups they made a name for themselves with and shifts into bracing, chromatic Serbian territory on the wings of a trumpet solo. For a band who had so many members who play in other projects, it’s remarkable how little the lineup has changed over the years. That’s John Carlson and Kenny Warren on trumpets, Peter Hess on sax, Tim Vaughn and Adam Dotson on trombones and Kenny Bentley on tuba.

Considering how much of a party the Tuesday night residency was, the split-second precision of the horns on this July, 2018 version of Balada is pretty amazing, Stan’s liquid accordion lines holding it together. Same with the rapidfire minor-key brass flurries over the subtle side-step rhythm in Romano Pravo, from the March 2017 gig. The tantalizingly brief accordion-and-drums breakdown was always a big audience hit, and this is a prime example.

Truth is one of their rarer, slower, more balmy numbers, Stan methodically working his way from choosing his spots to his usual supersonic pirouettes. The next number, 323 is a showcase for the band’s funkier side. The three tunes from the August 20, 2019 show – Romski Merak, Sing Sing Čoček, and Missy Sa-sa – appear here as an increasingly delirious, roughly seventeen-minute suite that covers pretty much all the bases. Steve Duffy plays tuba here as the band fire off biting doublestops, enigmatic whole-note solos, and a couple of hailstorm drum breaks.

After a brief rat-a-tat “Latino Band Medley,” the band close with FYC, a feast of disquieting Eastern European tonalities with a couple of careening trumpet and trombone solos recorded in July of 2018.

Since these are field recordings that the band released as merch during the time that disgraced ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo had criminalized live music in New York, the sound is on the trebly side, although there surprisingly isn’t a lot of audience noise. At the Queens show, you won’t be able to hear any of the “amazing music that Quince puts on at the end of the night” at the Park Slope gigs, as the group mention on the Bandcamp page. But all New Yorkers will be able to see the show since the bar was weaponized to discriminate against patrons who didn’t take the lethal Covid injection.

Mighty, Ambitious Large Ensemble Fun with Big Heart Machine at the Jazz Gallery

Considering the economic and logistical challenges of staging an album release show for new big band jazz, that Big Heart Machine were actually able to pull one together at all is reason for optimism. That they were able to sell out two sets last Thursday night at the Jazz Gallery is even more auspicious in light of the fact that what was once the civilized world’s default party music is now serious sitdown concert repertoire. We have Ellington to thank for that.

Ellington would have called this the first of the two types of music he was able to identify. The second set was everything a concert should be. On the album, Darcy James Argue’s production is tight as a drum; live, the orchestra threw caution to the wind with a careening intensity. Sure, there were some sonic issues, but so what. This is why we love jazz.

You don’t expect a guy who grew up meticulously copying metal guitar solos to be playing a flute – unless he’s Ian Anderson, maybe. Bandleader/composer Brian Krock does not stand on one leg while he plays, nor does he ask you to let him bring you songs from the wood. Instead, he joined the uneasy lustre of the opening of the group’s uninterrupted fifty-minute suite, Tamalpais, which rose far beyond the elegant sheen of the album version.

The one person in the house who seemed to be having more fun than anyone else was conductor Miho Hazama. Like Krock, her own work is vast and picturesque, so it was no surprise to watch her dancing while directing the ensemble. During that introductory Butch Morris-like massed group crescendo and the others that followed, she sat and waited for the orchestra to get it out of their system before returning to the score.

Krock told the crowd that he’d taken its inspiration from a hiking trip around the Bay Area. But what a trip that must have been, akin to that Dawn Oberg song about literally running across the corpse of a suicide in Golden Gate Park. Those big swells reached an angst hardly alluded to on the album. Likewise, tenor saxophonist Kevin Sun ran with an allusively troubled chromatic melody for all it was worth, echoed later in a momentary, bittersweet, after-the-rain crescendo by pianist Arcoiris Sandoval and trumpeter Kenny Warren. And guitarist Olli Hirvonen, who took centerstage throughout the show – and not necessarily volumewise – built dense dry-ice tableaux when he wasn’t anchoring one of the night’s most gorgeously poignant, circular interludes with big, booming, Porcupine Tree-like chords.

The group hit a couple of mighty high points late in the suite, trumpeter John Carlson’s muted steeliness eventually giving way to a steady, circling, elegaic theme that seemed to draw on the morose conclusion to Argue’s Brooklyn Babylon as much as, say, Ligeti.

They encored with the album’s opening number, Don’t Analyze, where Sandoval switched to synth and played what has to be the most unselfconsciously buffoonish solo on any jazz stage in town this year. She didn’t blink, either, using a lo-fi imitation of the fast-click attack you can grind out of a B3 organ if you monkey with it enough. Somewhere Bernie Worrell was grinning. The song’s gusts took on cumulo-nimbus extremes; as Hirvonen did throughout the set, he worked his pedals for keyboard and bass effects – and was a choir stashed away in the pedal too? Krock’s flitting, cold ending, which on album comes across as hard to fathom, was puckishly triumphant here.

Watch this space for Big Heart Machine’s next show. And Argue has a night coming up on Aug 29 at the Jazz Standard with his Secret Society. Sets are at 7:30 and 9:30; cover is steep, $30, but they’re worth it.

Slavic Soul Party’s New York Underground Tapes: Intense As Always

As usual, the corporate media gets it all wrong. Brooklyn isn’t about Bushwick blog-rock. That’s a tiny clique of one-percenters who don’t really care much about music, anyway: their thing is all about fashion, and memes, and pseudo-celebrity. And much as music in Brooklyn may have become completely balkanized, there are innumerable small, self-sustaining scenes that continue to flourish just under the radar: country music, oldtime string bands, hip-hop, bachata and not ironically, Balkan music. Brooklyn’s best-loved Balkan export, Slavic Soul Party continue their Tuesday night 9 PM residency at Barbes when they’re not playing much larger clubs around the world. For those who might take this mighty, funky, genre-smashing nine-man brass band for granted, they’ve got a new album out appropriately titled The New York Underground Tapes. A little earlier this year their fellow Brooklynites Raya Brass Band put out a phenomenal album, Dancing on Roses, Dancing on Cinders and this is just as good.

How is it that this music, with its tricky tempos and frequently menacing microtonalities, has become so popular? Maybe because it’s so good! It’s about time the rest of the world caught up with what the Serbians and Macedonians and the rest of the people in the former Eastern Bloc have known for centuries. But what Slavic Soul Party does isn’t just traditional songs. Over the last couple of years, they’ve been mixing Balkan brass music with James Brown, adding hip-hop flavor and poking fun at techno; this new album is just as eclectic. The opening track, Jackson, is typical: punchy, bluesy soul trumpet over a Balkan hook, a mesh of biting close harmonies, a blazing bop jazz trumpet solo and finally Peter Stan switching from his accordion to organ to add subtle, staccato textures on the way out. And it gets better from there.

Ominous low swells anchor the rapidfire microtones of the horns on Sing Sing Cocek, with an unexpected thematic change mid-song. Brasslands – a pun on Glasslands, the unairconditioned Williamsburg sweatbox venue, maybe? – sounds like a Serbian brass band taking a stab at a Mexican folk song, while the aptly titled Romp begins with fast waves of accordion over a suspensefully stalking tune and then goes into brisk gypsy swing. Bass drummer Matt Moran’s arrangement of Draganin Cocek is one of the best songs of the year: it’s looser and more dangerous than anything else here, with dark, Arabic-tinged hooks, a tensely smoldering Matt Musselman trombone solo and a lushly delicious crescendo. It’s a song without words, basically – where is their sometime frontwoman Eva Salina Primack when they need her?

Who is Walter Hurley? There’s a band director at Oxon Hill High School in Maryland with that name, and if this song is about that guy, he’s kind of funny – the tune begins as a caricature and almost imperceptibly shifts back to the minor-key intensity of the rest of the album. Clarinetist Peter Hess kicks off his composition Ahmet Gankino, jamming out the highs over suspensefully pulsing lows, eventually building to a shivery, pulsing call-and-response with joyous syncopated low brass, followed eventually by a machine-gun accordion solo. It’s a bigtime party anthem – as are all these songs, for that matter, no surprise considering that what they’re playing is dance music.

There are three more tracks here. The brief Alcohol to Arms, by Moran, has fun with an action movie theme. Underneath all the stabbing, there’s a balmy ballad underneath Moran’s arrangement of the traditional tune Zvonce. The whole band – besides Stan, Moran, Musselman and Hess, there’s John Carlson and Kenny Warren on trumpet and truba, Tim Vaughn on trombone, Chris Stomquist on snare and percussion and Ron Caswell on tuba – tackles a brutally difficult, pinpoint-precise staccato arrangement and makes it seem effortless. The album closes with Jonas Muller’s clever Last Man Standing, the whole band having fun portraying a drunk guy as he staggers and slurs and tries to keep up with the tune. Beside the usual digital formats, the band also recorded a song on a wax cylinder in case you have ten grand to burn. Calling all Bushwick bloggers!

Slavic Soul Party are at the Jewish Museum this Wednesday, July 19 at 7:30 PM; $15 ($12 for students) gets you in plus open wine/beer bar plus free kosher ice cream.