The Balkans. Centuries of unrest, revolution and occupation have left
much of the region without a clear identity to the point where
historians are inconsistent on which countries accurately form its
constituency. Culturally, an organically developed assimilation took
precedence over national boundaries and a type of regional folk music
called sevdalinka, along with strong elements of Gypsy music,
became most prominent. If one were inclined toward this dark, somber
style, its integration with other genres was a long time in the offing.
Jazz groups like pianist Michael Jefry Stevens and bassist Joe Fonda's led Eastern Boundary Quartet have infused elements of Balkan folk music into their compositions as has guitarist Brad Shepik
and a handful of others. Those examples are a far cry from the
traditional (and regionally more popular) Balkan brass band format that
dates back to the early 1800s and—for the most part—whose
instrumentation has changed little. The accordion, a traditional
instrument front-line instrument in sevdalinka, was a natural cross-over
to the brass bands.
Over the past seven years, the Raya Brass
Band has been winning hearts, minds and ears playing everywhere from NYC
Subway stations to Lincoln Center to the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge;
the latter location being the approximate home-base of the group. This
wildly eclectic band's previous album Dancing On Roses, Dancing On Cinders established their personal twist on the genre with contagious grooves. With their new CD, Raya, the group moves to another level.
Nezih Antakli replaces EJ Fry; Rich Stein—on snare drum and
percussion—has been added to a lineup that includes the two main
composers Greg Squared on saxophone and trumpeter Ben Syversen. The
sextet is completed by the excellent accordionist Matthew Fass and Don
Godwin on tuba. Godwin also penned "Dren Gajda" and "Club Mono." The
influences are many and far reaching with the opening "Unify" boasting
of a strong salsa flavor while "Sugar and Salt" clearly owes some of its
tone to the Celtic style. The highlight of Raya is "Sunken Angels," a cinematic and sweeping piece with great leads from Syversen and Fass.
compositions throughout are high energy with only "With Every Drop That
Falls" slowing the tempo a bit at an appropriate mid-point of the
album. Despite the multicultural inputs on of Raya the music
rarely moves to obviously defined styles but opts for a more understated
blend. The musicianship and writing here are brilliant and Raya has clout and is full of revelations.
Track Listing: Unify; Dren Gajda; Sugar and Salt; Sunken
Angels; With Every Drop That Falls; Ivan's Tune; Bag Of Nails; Mirage;
Personnel: Greg Squared: saxophone/composer; Ben Syversen:
trumpet/composer; Matthew Fass: accordion; Don Godwin: tuba; Nezih
Antakli: percussion; Rich Stein: snare drum, percussion.
Year Released: 2015
| Record Label: Self Produced
| Style: Modern Jazz