Southeastern European-Inspired 'Raya' Will Make You Dance [REVIEW]

By Mike Greenblatt on Jan 12, 2016 02:16 PM EST
Raya Brass Band Raya Brass Band (Photo : April Renae - Courtesy of Clandestine Media)

The difference between New York City's Raya Brass Band and such venerable brass institutions as Rebirth, New Birth and Dirty Dozen is that, for the seven years of its existence, RBB has maintained its Balkan identity. On the self-released Raya, their nine originals in a compact 38:27 let this six-man/11-instrument juggernaut loose so you can get loose on a dance floor.

The RBB, although experienced at performing in clubs, fests and private parties, is not above wailing mid-span on the Brooklyn Bridge in the middle of the night or on subway trains. They've collaborated with Ballet Tech choreographer Eliot Feld at Manhattan's Joyce Theater as well as with Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater.

The sax, trumpet, accordion, double-keyboards, tuba, synthesizer, multiple percussion (Turkish tupan drum, shaker, scratcher, clicker, kalimba, clacker, rattle, hand drum and snare drum) create a joyous march-fest through Puerto Rican salsa, Ethiopian folk, Israeli Klezmer, New Orleans second lines, Bhangra music from India and, of course, that particular Southeastern European strain of Balkan complexity.

This Balkan strain, which geographically covers from Turkey to Serbia and Roumania to Greece, is central to their cultural personality. Tunes like "Dren Gajda" or "Sugar and Salt," for instance, manifest this rich mother lode of influence as saxophonist Greg Squared honks out riffs originally intended for Macedonian bagpipes. It could be a Celtic jig or a reel from some drunken sea shanty. "Mirage," on the other hand, is a total departure in its brooding atmospherics. It sounds like you're lost in Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, the largest and oldest marketplace in the world (3,000+ shops on 61 covered streets).

Produced by tuba and keyboard player Don Godwin, written by Godwin, sax man Squared and trumpeter Ben Syversen, recorded at Brooklyn's Phantom Center, Raya is an instant mood elevator, better than Xanax.

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TagsRaya Brass Band, REVIEW, Balkan folk music, Southeastern Europe

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