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Frank London's Klezmer Brass Allstars
Brotherhood of Brass
Piranha (www.piranha.de)

Boban Markovic Orkestar
Bistra Reka
X-Produkció (www.fono.hu)

cd cover Given the fractious state of global ethnic politics, finding Serbia's Boban Markovic Orkestar, Cairo's Hasaballa Brass Band and Frank London's New York-based Klezmer Brass Allstars collaborating on the same recording may seem an unlikely occurrence. But in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, the world's great transnational peoples - Roma, Muslims and Jews - have long cultivated musical bonds, says the enigmatic Dr. R. A. Bronner, author of the elliptically provocative album notes. To wit, the syncopated 3/2 rhythmic figure of the Gypsy cocek, Bonner insists, is the same time element that lends its swing to many sacred musics, including the Jewish freylekh, the Turkish çiftitelli, and the clave of Abakwa, Santería, Lucumí and Candomblé. One might only qualify Bronner's assertion by adding the breakout "Latin tinge" that Jelly Roll Morton found coursing through the sacred and secular musical veins of New Orleans, that most Caribbean of North American port cities.

Listen!
Klezmer Brass All-Stars
On Brotherhood of Brass, trumpeter Frank London (of Klezmatics and Hasidic New Wave fame) assembles some superb players, including English clarinetist Merlin Shepherd (of the German klezmer group Sukke, formerly of Budowitz and The Burning Bush), trombonists Mark Hamilton and David Harris (Klezmer Conservatory Band, Naftule's Dream), the Klezmatics' Matt Darriau (clarinets, alto sax, gaida), percussionist Aaron Alexander (Hasidic New Wave), and the remarkable Mark Rubin (tuba, bass helicon; formerly of the Austin Klezmorim and the Bad Livers). Then there are London's high-energy guests, trumpeter Markovic, and Abd Elhamid Kamel, Hasaballa Brass Band leader and clarinetist extraordinaire. Markovic's brass horde lends a potent presence on five tracks, including a dynamic pairing of the stately "Lieberman Husidl" with the full-blast "Lieberman Funky Freylekhs." Hasaballa's reedier brass-and-percussion texture lends a wailing, propulsive North African street feel to "Imayel Ya Khail" and "Shish Kebab." The balance of tunes is from the Lubovitcher (an accelerating "Wedding in Crown Heights"), Shabbes ("Shalom Aleykhem"), Hasidic and convergent Eastern European traditions. The resulting transnational sonic stew is a curiously articulate polyglot mix, a towering Babel of brass that suffers no fools in its musical hanging gardens.

Indeed, London's attitude toward fusion has helped make klezmer an integral part of the world-music landscape. In a recent interview with Jewish Culture News (Spring 2000), he cited an "inquisitive openness" as the source of inspiration in his personal musical quest. Says London, "My personal versatility as a trumpeter is reflected in how I first came to Jewish music. By learning how to listen, how to study, how to speak different languages musically, how to maintain my own identity while working with others, I have been privileged to work with artists from literally around the world."

By way of punctuation, just when you think it's safe to venture out again, an occult presence erupts from the other side of the sonic veil, the unlisted seventeenth track on Brotherhood of Brass, which might best be described as the "Schnozzola" does manic cosmopolitan Ashkenazi vaudeville dub. ("Now let me hear da trumpet... Dat's a trumpet!")

cd cover London's guest Boban Markovic - king of Roma brass and reigning Serbian trumpet royalty - has just released another brilliant title of his own, shot through with jazz, Latin-Caribbean and whatever other unmapped sound streams course through his musical imagination. Able to leap tall buildings with a single bound, the Markovic Orkestar has moments of pure possession, but an ear for the extraordinary remains ever grounded in tight arrangement and superb musicianship. The band won so many titles at the annual Guca Serbian brass festival that they were barred from further competition. Bistra Reka demonstrates why. A sassy, swinging "Grom Cocek," the opening track, immediately confirms Dr. Bonner's claims for the 3/2 rhythm's levitating qualities, and the band has barely achieved takeoff.

Listen!
Markovic Orkestar
Some Serbian brass band purists have criticized Markovic for flirting with pop elements, but his is an omnivorous genius that makes every musical orbit uniquely its own, and if the driving ska figure of "Otpisani" (a dazzling marriage of brass and percussion) is any measure, the trumpeter warrants unlimited lifetime license (Tommy McCook is smiling somewhere back of beyond). Ditto for "T.T.," backbone-slipping Serbian soca set loose on a Crescent City second line, while the ominous, unhurried percussive undertow of "Povetarac" carries a tragic apparition of Balkan majesty out onto a blood-dark sea. And just when you've settled into an all-brass-all-the-time frame of mind, Momcilo Krstic's stunning sax issues forth on "Gorke Suze." Modulating evocatively between minor and major keys, "Rindzi" uncorks a quick-stepping 2/4 march that would do Fellini proud. And check out the opening fanfare of "Vodopad": North American football marching bands at every level could learn a thing or three from Markovic and company. One could go on, as this is music whose endurance is both epic and assured. Consider son Marko's cameo trumpet appearance on "Roditeljska Sreca," whose melancholy audacity offers resonant aural evidence that the Markovic musical legacy is in good hands, putting a new generation of horn players on planetary notice. "Now dat's a trumpet!" - Michael Stone

Available from cdRoots:
Brotherhood of Brass
Bistra Reka

Klezmer Brass All-Stars: Audio (p)(c)2002 Piranha, and used with their permission
Boban Markovic Orkestar: Audio (p)(c)2002 Fono Records, and used with their permission


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