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Džambo Aguševi Orchestra
Brasses For The Masses

Asphalt Tango
Review by Chris Nickson

After showing a precocious early talent on the trumpet, Aguševi began leading his own band from when young, yet another of those young and fiery Balkan trumpet talents – his group won first place in the prestigious Guça band festival in 2011. Now he’s matured, and as the title implies, he’s aiming for a much broader acceptance for his band from Skopje in North Macedonia. Aguševi’s eyes are definitely on the global prize.

The music is hot. Of course it is; this is a group packed with virtuosos, not least Aguševi himself. But in the Balkan brass world, if you don’t sizzle, you go home. The difference here isn’t in how well they play, but what they do with the music. Take the title cut, for instance. It kicks off the album in a powerful blast of very soulful horns that could have wandered over from a vintage Tower of Power recording session to explode on the track, running into hip-hop verses (in English, notably) and a very poppy, bright sound. It’s a way of laying out the stall, of saying we’re here, we’re in your face. Deal with it. And as that, it’s very, very effective.

There’s plenty that hews closer to the tradition; closer, but far from absolute. Aguševi is in his 30s, he’s cosmopolitan, he’s heard music from all over, and it shows, even when the band comes out of the blocks like they’re playing a three-day wedding. “Taksim Dream” gives nods towards both jazz and R&B, and “Crazy Horse” has the novelty of brass imitating a horse’s neigh, while the band sounds like they’re making the soundtrack for a dusty Macedonian western. It’s kitschy, but surprisingly atmospheric and good.

Throughout, the ability is on offer, but they don’t make a fetish of it. This is a showcase for an ensemble with very commercial appeal. Since it’s about finding a broader audience for their music, the frantic blues of “Old Bazaar Groove” could well prove to be the best candidate for global airplay. It’s basically a Balkan reimagination of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” interspersed by utterly frantic horns with a Turkish flavour. And you know what? It’s pretty irresistible. Like everything else here, the brass certainly is for the masses.

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Bonus: a full live concert from The Kennedy Center

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