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Tag: ron caswell

A Riveting, Exhilaratingly Dark Lincoln Center Album Release Show by Brian Carpenter’s Ghost Train Orchestra

It’s impossible to think of a better way to start the year than watching Brian Carpenter’s Ghost Train Orchestra slink and swing their way through the darkly surreal album release show for their new one, Book of Rhapsodies Vol. 2 at Jazz at Lincoln Center earlier this week. In a sense, the record brings the former Beat Circus leader full circle with his noir roots, in the process rescuing all kinds of eerie, genre-shattering 1930s and 40s tunes from obscurity.

From the first uneasy, enigmatic solo of the night – from alto saxophonist Andy Laster – to the last one, a furtively expansive one from tenor player Ben Kono – this mighty seventeen-piece edition of the band were obviously jumping out of their shoes to be playing this material. Since before the group’s wildly popular 2013 Book of Rhapsodies album, trumpeter/conductor Carpenter has dedicated himself to resurrecting the work of little-known carnivalesque composers, most notably Reginald Foresythe, a British pianist who was more than a half-century ahead of his time.

Recast in Carpenter’s new arrangement, one of that composer’s numbers sounded like a beefed-up swing version of a noir surf number by Beninghove’s Hangmen. A serpentine, bolero-tinged tune again evoked that current-day cinematic band, drummer Rob Garcia having fun rattling the traps in tandem with the moody low-end pulse of bassist Michael Bates and tuba player Ron Caswell.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, guitarist Avi Bortnick added the occasional marionettish ping or pop to goose the music when it threatened to go completely dark. The rest of the band – Curtis Hasselbring on trombone, Dennis Lichtman  on clarinet, Mazz Swift on violin, and Emily Bookwalter on viola – were bolstered by a six-piece choir including but not limited to the soaring Aubrey Johnson and Tammy Scheffer. The extra voices added deviously incisive counterpoint on all ends of the spectrum as well.

There were two swinged-out arrangements of Chopin pieces, the second an impromptu, which featured the night’s most sizzling solo, a lickety-split series of harmonically-spiced cascaces from Swift. She’d reprise that with a little more brevity during an epic take of Raymond Scott’s Celebration on the Planet Mars, along with similarly punchy solos from Hasselbring, Kono, Laster, Garcia and Caswell. A couple of romping, swinging, sometimes vaudevillian and occasionally cartoonish Alec Wilder tunes gave the band something approximating comic relief. Watch this space for a more in-depth look at the amazing new album.

Eva Salina Radically and Hauntingly Reinvents Balkan Icon Saban Bajramovic’s Cult Classics

Balkan singer Eva Salina‘s new album Lema Lema – streaming at Spotify – is a radical achievement. That it would take an American woman to bring the songs of Serbian Romany icon Šaban Bajramović to a global audience speaks volumes about how undeservedly obscure he is beyond the Romany diaspora…and also about Eva Salina’s revolutionary vision. CDBaby has both digital and physical copies.

There’s really nobody in western music quite like Bajramović – he’s sort of a Balkan counterpart to Hank Williams, but also Al Green and Bob Marley. Dating from the 1960s, his colorful songs spoke for generations of Romany people. who continue to experience disenfranchisement around the globe.

One of Eva Salina’s most ambitious moves here is not to make any grammatical adjustments for gender in Bajramović’s original Romanes-language lyrics (just as another elite singer, Mary Lee Kortes, did when she covered Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks). While the bristling minor keys, edgy chromatics and tricky meters of these songs may be exotic to most American audiences, the nuance and poignancy of Eva Salina’s richly emotive vocals transcends the limits of language: sometimes tender, sometimes coy, often harrowingly plaintive. Being versed in the language as well as the music, having immersed herself in both since childhood, no doubt helps immensely. She and her longtime accordionist Peter Stan have a couple of gigs coming up; March 3 at 8, they’re at Barbes, then the following evening they’re at the American Folk Art Museum at 5:30 PM.

The band on the album comprise the creme de la creme of New York-based Balkan talent. Along with the frontwoman and the accordionist, there’s trumpeter Frank London, guitarist Brandon Seabrook, multi-keyboardist Patrick Farrell, ubiquitous percussionist Deep Singh and tubaist Ron Caswell. There’s also a blazing brass section led by famed Serbian trumpeter Ekrem Mamutović.

Akaja Rat sets the stage, a lithely dancing, sunny, glisteningly precise nmber spiced with rat-a-tat brass, wry synth texurres and a shuffling, straight-up dancefloor beat. Boza Limunada opens with a blaze of brass from London and fellow trumpeter John Carlson, an anthemic, bittersweet, pulsingly tricky launching pad for Eva Salina’s coolly enigmatic low register. The band reinvents Djelo Djelo as somber, accordion-fueled Abbey Road Beatles art-rock under Eva Salina’s uneasily soaring melismas

Her darkly torchy approach to the plushly propulsive, noirish Hovavni Romni is spine-tingling.Singh’s slow, misterioso groove, moody low brass, Farrell’s spiraling synth and Seabrook’s dramatic David Gilmour-esque accents provide a haunting backdrop for the frontwoman’s  similarly suspenseful vocals throughout Jek Jek Dešujek, part lullaby, part warning. By contrast, the album’s title track blends staccato Balkan dancefloor chromatics and trippily twinkling art-rock under a pillowy vocal.

Singh’s leapfrogging beats in tandem with the brass adds more than a hint of bhangra to Koj Si Gola Roma, which takes on more of a Balkan reggae feel as it bounces along. They do O Zvonija Marena as a stately, understated, mysterious tango for accordion and vocals. From there they pick up the pace with with the track that may be the most familiar to Balkan music fans, Pijanica: the subtle keyboard touches under the slowly building brass conflagration are as amusing as they are psychedelic.

The final cut is I Barval Pudela, recast as blazing Romany rock:. imagine an artsier Gogol Bordello with one of the world’s most spinetingling singers out front. Spin one of this decade’s most exhilarating albums and discover two Balkan icons, one from the past and the other who promises to be one in the future.

The Ghost Train Orchestra Bring the Roaring 20s and the Not-So-Roaring 20s to the Jalopy

The Ghost Train Orchestra differentiate themselves from most of the oldtime swing bands out there in that they don’t play standards. They specialize in rescuing lost treasures from the 20s and 30s, songs that were typically unknown outside of small, regional scenes. Part living archive, part tight, explosive dance band, it’s no wonder that their albums routinely top the jazz charts. They’re playing the cd release show for their latest one Hot Town this May 22 at 10 PM at the Jalopy. Because the venue is expecting a sellout, they’re selling advance tix for $10. Opening the show at 9, GTO clarinetist Dennis Lichtman does double duty and switches to his fiddle and maybe his mandolin out in front of his western swing band Brain Cloud.

The new album is a mix of songs that didn’t make it onto the orchestra’s 2011 breakthrough album Hothouse Stomp, along some even more obscure rediscoveries and a couple that might be slightly better known – go figure! The title track is actually a reinvention rather than a straight-up cover -and it was actually a big hit for Harlem’s Fess Williams and his orchestra in 1929 as a vamping novelty tune. This version has guest bass saxophonist Colin Stetson providing eerie diesel-train overtones before the clickety-clack groove gets underway. A second track originally done by Williams, You Can’t Go Wrong has more of a 19th century plantation-folk feel than the rest of the material here.

This album marks the debut release of Mo’Lasses, the second track, recorded by Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Orchestra, also in 1929, but never released. As rapidfire doom blues (is that a genre?) go, it’s got a striking early Ellingtonian sophistication; bandleader Brian Carpenter’s trumpet, Petr Cancura’s clarinet and Curtis Hasselbring’s trombone all get brisk solos.

Hot jazz cult bandleader Charlie Johnson is represented by You Ain’t the One, with its jaunty, staccato brass and low-key but determined Mazz Swift vocals – and Charleston Is the Best Dance After All, which winds up the album. Benny Waters’ Harlem Drag strongly suggests that the Rolling Stones nicked it, hook and all, for Spider & the Fly. There are two numbers from the catalog of late 20s Harlem composer/bandleader Cecil Scott & His Bright Boys: Bright Boy Blues, with its slowly swaying, luminously morose chart, and the more upbeat but similarly indigo-toned Springfield Stomp.

Fats Waller’s Alligator Crawl alternates droll mmm-hmmm backing vocals with spritely dixieland clarinet and vaudevillian muted trombone. Chicago bandleader Tiny Parham – celebrated along with Williams on Hothouse Stomp -has three numbers here. Skag-a-Lag sets a rapidfire series of cameos against an oldtimey levee camp hook; Down Yonder features a call-and-response chart and sudden, klezmer-tinged minor-key detours; the lickety-split stroll Friction calls on Hasselbring’s trombone, Swift’s violin and the rest of the band to be on tiptoe all the way through, and they are.

This one will get both the Gatsby wannabes and the rest of us out on the floor – or at least wishing we could afford to be there. This may be dance music, but it’s also rooted, sometimes front and center, sometimes less distinctly, in the blues, and the blues isn’t exactly happy-go-lucky stuff. Times weren’t easy, before or after the Crash of 1929 and the persistent undercurrent that runs throughout much of this material reflects that. The album’s not out yet, therefore no streaming link, but you can get a sense of the kind of fun this band generates at their Soundcloud page. And they always bring merch to shows.

A Must-See Eva Salina Residency for All You Balkan Music Fans

Chanteuse/accordionist/bandleader Eva Salina is one of the world’s most sought-after singers of Balkan and Eastern European music. As a result, she spends a lot of time on the road. Right now she’s in town for an extended spell: when she’s not up at Lincoln Center, teaching New York City school kids about the thrills and chills of Romany and Macedonian and Bulgarian folk tunes, she and her killer band can be found on Monday nights at around 9 PM at Sisters Brooklyn, 900 Fulton St. (Washington/Waverly, right at the Clinton-Washington C train) where they’re playing a weekly residency for the foreseeable future. Their debut performance there was last week, followed by a deliriously fun show the following Friday at Friends & Lovers in Bed-Stuy.

The band opened the show there with an extended jam. Accordionist Peter Stan (also of Slavic Soul Party) is this group’s not-so-secret weapon, bobbing and weaving and ranging from misterioso intro improvs to endless, rapidfire volleys of chromatics and bristling minor keys. On one hand, it was surreal to see guitar shredmeister Brandon Seabrook hang on simple, ominously lingering minor chords for bar after bar, but he’d also shift into maniac mode when least expected, throwing off jagged shards of skronk, elephantine exuberance and unnameable toxic frequencies. Likewise, trumpeter John Carlson (also of SSP) alternated between moody, sustained lines, often in harmony with the accordion, when he wasn’t picking up the pace with an edgy, jazz-infused focus. Tuba player Ron Caswell teamed with drummer Chris Stomquist for some unexpectedly bouncy, spring-loaded grooves for music which isn’t known for being particularly funky.

They built from Stan’s first brooding intro to a dub-infused pulse, rising with Seabrook’s snorts and wails, then some elegant chromatics from Carlson, handing off again to Stan for a whirling vortex of a solo. The bandleader then joined them for an intense, achingly microtonal, melismatic, almost reggae-tinged cover of one of the numbers on her upcoming album Lema Lema: Eva Salina sings Šaban Bajramovic. The late Bajramovic, with his otherworldly, wounded, full-throated style, was revered in his native Serbia and remains a beloved cult figure throughout the Romany community. It’s hard to think of an English-language singer who channels heartbreak like he did – Orbison is close, but no cigar. Beyond the rock world, Hector Lavoe makes a better comparison, although Bajramovic didn’t rely on falsetto as much. Eva Salina has nuance and power to match his: that an American woman would spearhead a Bajramovic revival is pretty radical in itself, especially where that music comes from.

They followed with a jaunty minor-key strut, a springboard for Eva Salina’s torchy, brassy side. Her previous album, Eva Salina Solo – mostly just accordion and vocals, or a-cappella – is as plaintively riveting as anything released this decade. This band, on the other hand, is her fun project: up in front of the group, she swayed and shimmied, eyes closed, completely one with the songs. Check out their high-voltage take of Opa Cupa, another Bajramovic number from later in the night. The Sisters residency continues this Monday, Feb 23 at 9, features two sets of tunes and there’s no cover.

Eva Salina’s Scorching Saturday Night Debut

Eva Salina Primack has been the go-to singer on the New York Balkan music circuit for awhile now, and has an upcoming collaboration with contemporary Bosnian accordionist Merima Kljuco. And somehow she’s finally found time to put together her own band, simply called Eva Salina. Their live debut Saturday night at a benefit for the Eastern European Folklife Center at the Ukrainian National Home was as both as feral and subtle as you would imagine from a group including Frank London on trumpet, Patrick Farrell on accordion, Rich Stein of Gato Loco on percussion and Ron Caswell playing simple, steady oompah basslines on tuba. Unlike most bands with a charismatic frontwoman, this one is just as much about the instrumentalists as it is the singer, Primack shimmying with her eyes closed, lost in the music while Farrell and London traded incendiary chromatics, the slinky vamps rising from a flicker to a flame.

The show was a characteristically eclectic mix of songs from across Eastern Europe, across the decades. Although Primack has a stunning vocal range in whatever language she chooses to sing in, this time out she aired out her lower register, sometimes brooding, sometimes brassy, sometimes sultry with just the hint of a rasp as the show went on. The effect was most impressive on a trio of songs in Romanes by the late, legendary Serbian gypsy crooner Saban Bajramovic. It takes nerve for an American to cover him; for a woman, it’s doubly difficult, but Primack nailed it, diving low and angst-fueled and eventually rising triumphantly on Me Mangava Te Kelav, a song whose gist is essentially “life sucks but let’s marry off my son and then party.” The tricky tempos of Rovena Rovena, a lament for a mother who’s left her family to go off to Germany in search of work, didn’t phase anybody, Primack poignantly evoking the pain and loss of a young girl left to fend for herself as London and Farrell sparred with an increasingly agitated series of chromatic riffs. And Pijanica, the lament of a drunk whose inability to pull himself together is gradually costing him everything, built matter-of-factly from a clapalong groove to a ferocious trumpet crescendo – as this band did it, at least he got to go out with a bang.

The most haunting part of the night was a pair of Bulgarian songs, Lenka Bolna Lezhi and Kate, Katerino, the first a plaintive account of a dying girl whose doctor eventually promises to heal her – if he can run away with her and marry her. The second implored a girl not to marry the local teacher, who has no house, and will probably drag her from town to town where the locals might think she’s a vampire (these songs’ lyrical content is sometimes as lurid as the Appalachian gothic that Primack also gravitates to, notably with her AE vocal duo project with Aurelia Shrenker). Ironically, the band did the most bizarre song of the night, the Albanian folk tune Trendafil (“Throwing your hair behind your eyebrows like a crown/What did the boy do that made you not talk to him?”) completely straight-up, the catchy major/minor harmonies of the accordion and trumpet so seamless over Stein’s relaxed backbeat groove that it was practically new wave rock. This band’s next gig is at the Jalopy on May 3 in a doublebill with Michael Alpert and Julian Kytasty’s excellent duo project.

Raya Brass Band were next on the bill. Their new album Dancing on Roses, Dancing on Cinders tops the list for best of 2012 so far (along with Chicha Libre’s new one, Canibalismo). As you would imagine, their Balkan jams are pretty amazing live. Now why would anybody want to blow off such a good band? It’s called having a life. Getcha next time, guys. Same to you, Forro in the Dark.