Knitting Factory KFW-300

In Makedonija
Knitting Factory KFW-310

Paradoxically, as the twin vises of globalization and the commercial American entertainment industry tighten their grip on the world, traditional music has never been more popular. But examples of so-called World Music lose their validity if they’re merely held up as examples of what they were (conservative) and what they’re not (American) rather than evolving with time. Evolution doesn’t mean adding rock beats and sing-a-long choruses either.

No, evolutionary traditional music is made up of sounds that adapt to and from other idioms the way the wold’s most popular — and sophisticated — traditional music, jazz, has done so. There are examples of that sort of admixture on these two discs, which also highlight the universality of the sounds they contain. Although musicologists could probably enumerate the many differences between Balkan and Klezmer music, they sound pretty similar here. Not only that, but both bands spotlighted set themselves up as purveyors of goodtime music, characterized by simple bouncy melodies that are heavy on the brass and percussion and both groups feature accordion players. With more members, the De Amsterdam Klezmer Band (DAKB) produces a fuller sound, but the ethnic percussion of Slavic Soul Party (SSP)’s leader Matt Moran gives that group more rhythmic heft.

Neither band is ethnically pure either. DAKB, for instance, is made up of seven Dutch musicians, none one of whom seems to have Jewish roots, playing Ashkenazi Eastern European dance music mixed with Gypsy and circus influences for an American record-buying audience. Meanwhile Slavic Soul Party (SSP) is made up of four Americans and one Bulgarian-American musicians, all educated in jazz improvisation, who not only create their own rendering of a Balkan music band, but traveled to Macedonia to play and record there.

While the gesture may seem somewhat analogous to the actions of British rock bands that toured North America in the mid- and late 1960s playing their interpretations of American blues and R&B, SSP’s gesture was much more benign. For a start the Balkan state wasn’t a source of ready income the way the U.S. turned out to be for British bands. Plus, the members of SSP seemed genuinely interested in taping their music at its source. And they appeared to be welcomed by the traditional musicians they jammed with — an example of which is on the CD — and audiences they encountered. Furthermore, while all the other tunes performed were written by a local composer, SSP appends a version of Duke Ellington’s “Blue Pepper”, which fits hand-in-glove with the Balkan compositions here.

No musical carpetbaggers, all the SSPers had already exhibited their commitment to diverse music. Moran, whose understanding of the local offcentre rhythms is so profound that he can add a South Asian or jazz beat to the proceedings, is active as a performer and teacher on the American folk music scene. He has also worked with American jazz composer/bandleaders like bassist William Parker and pianist George Russell. Fluent in both Gypsy music — through the band Pachora — and jazz, clarinetist Chris Speed has also been featured in the bands of altoist Tim Berne and pianist Myra Melford among others. Accordionist Ted Reichman has had a long association with composer Anthony Braxton and recorded with him as well as drummer John Hollenbeck. Fluent in rock as well as jazz, trombonist Curtis Hasselbring is also a Jazz Passenger, while trumpeter Rossen Zahariev has a jazz and classical background and has recorded with drummer Bob Moses.

To extend the music, throughout the disc, the five mix jazz techniques such as call-and-response and quick tempo changes with adaptations like blasting open horn brass work, staccato and smeared reed bites, chromatic keyboard swells and slides plus adapted ethnic percussion. On the last track, Reichman and Moran even trade licks with local clarinetist Irfan Malik. Singing is done by locals.

DAKB is another matter. Together since 1996, and like SSP available for weddings, parties and street festivals, the group is made up of musicians who adapted brass band, pop and Roma influences to Yiddish festive music from Eastern Europe. Playing with much more legitimate technique than Moran and crew, they offer the same sort of jolly recklessness on their tunes. But in the speed of execution and expected instrumental arrangements, with seemingly every cry and slide in place, the band reflects its position, coming to sounds that are separated more than two degrees from their own experience.

With the majority of compositions here originals, each player gets the proper sound dimensions down pat and carefully fits his improvisations within the broader context, with the bass and accordion doing yeoman work carrying the beat in the absence of percussion. Plus the accordionist and the horns shown their versatility in adapting to different contexts.

However, there are times where the vocal renditions, especially in the traditional tunes, bring to mind the efforts of 1960s revival country blues and old-timey music performers. Here are young, 21st century, urban, sophisticated musicians trying to recreate the sounds of primitive, persecuted, mostly rural 19th century songsters. In truth members of DAKB may be too technically aware and too removed from the roots to replicate the pertinent emotions. Authenticity shouldn’t be a fetish, and obviously a style of music can’t evolve if improvisation isn’t allowed, but rote performances are less obvious when words aren’t involved. Many times, in fact, the vocalists here sound as if they’re primping for a cabaret or music hall performance, rather than expressing the joys or heartbreak of a afflicted people.

Both geographical areas and people celebrated by DAKB and SSP have had their share of strife. So if you accept the exceptional work of the musicians here as non-specific productions and performances you’ll be well satisfied. Putting aside all agendas both bands have created fine party records — with SSP having the slight edge — that with good fun and good musicianship — are sure to enliven any non-mainstream fete.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Slavic: 1. Is this your first time in Makedonija? 2. Ševa 3. Dafino Vino 4. Dance the Dust Up 5. Derive Ro 6. Leventikos 7. Zajde zajde* 8. Koutsos 9. All Up and Down 10. Romanian Holiday 11. Trite Puti 12. (Let’s just call him) Pavlos 13. Blue Pepper 14. The wedding next door/Paidushko+

Personnel: Slavic: Rossen Zahariev (trumpet); Curtis Hasselbring (trombone); Chris Speed (clarinet); Ted Reichman (accordion); Matt Moran (drums, tapan, darabouka, snare, riq); except:* Angele Dimovski (kaval); Jovanche Dimovski (voice); Biljana Dimovski (accordion); + Irfan Malik (clarinet); Reichman ; Moran

Track Listing: Limonchiki: 1. Di Naie Chuppe 2. Nadja 3. Der Terkishe Yale We Yove Valenstein Nigun# 4. Matrosi^ 5. Chajes 6. Limonchiki 7. Der Mame ist Gegangen^ 8. Odessa Bulgarish^ 9. De Vuurvareter Van Sassari -10.Noushka* 11. A Chassid in Amsterdam# 12. Nanos 13.Mala Loka+&

Personnel: Limonchiki: Gijs Levelt or Sjors Pancraz +(trumpet); Joop van der Linden (trombone); Janfie van Strien (clarinet, sopranino saxophone); Wim Lammen (alto saxophone)&; Job Chajes (alto saxophone, vocals#, bass*); HenkJan van Minnen (accordion); Jasper de Beer (bass, banjo*); Alec Kopyt (percussion, vocals^)