The central equation behind Slavic Soul Party! is self-explanatory: an American black-music spin on the Balkan brass band. The net product is akin to a New-Orleans-style brass band, but with different percussion timbres, horn trills and glissandi. (Also, accordion, because Europe.) It’s the sort of multiculti collision you see forged in major population centers; you may be interested to know the band has a standing Tuesday night gig at a Brooklyn bar which specializes in international music.
The band’s upcoming release adds more stamps to its passport, by proxy — it’s a full re-arrangement of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn‘s late-career masterpiece The Far East Suite, an LP inspired by a trip to the Middle East and South Asia. (“Far East” is a bit of a misnomer.) The cry of an Indian mynah bird birthed the clarinet melody you hear on “Bluebird Of Delhi.” Ellington and Strayhorn then filled in the brooding bass line, the secondary theme and a relaxed swing beat.
It’s great source material to start with, but what Slavic Soul Party! does with it is the neato trick to watch out for. The bass line becomes an ominous brass blast over which a trumpet blares and folky percussion rumbles (Chris Stromquist on snare, bandleader Matt Moran on a bass-drum-like instrument). Instead of classic big-band swing, parade funk switches on instantly, the high of a lithe clarinet (Peter Hess) against the low of active tuba bass (Ron Caswell). The climax and denouement are almost the same — so as not to mess with a good thing — though the act of reimagination in multiple dialects at once ensures a much different path to its arrival.
In spite of all that’s going on, it totally works. Alternatively, because of everything that goes on, the total package works.
Slavic Soul Party! Plays Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite comes out Sept. 16 via Ropeadope.