Anyone that has served the People's Army of Yugoslavia or the subsequent armies that came out after the independence of this country's republics will be well acquainted with the term "Drnch." "Drnch" or deterdženski rastvarač nećistoća, is a gun cleaning chemical that is used for cleaning the barrel of the firearm. Also, this acronym refers to a special kind of meal which was served, a swill, where the remnants of previously served meals were poured in the pot. Without a hint of hindering the achievements of Fish in Oil-s debut Poluostrvo (SKC Kragujevac, 2012) regardless of what the term means locally, obviously it refers to all of the unusual ingredients that were put into the band's second outing, titled as Drnch.
Evidently the band has deepened and refined the John Zorn/Marc Ribot sound that largely influenced its debut. Still, the touchstones for Drnch still seem to be a close-knit group interplay along with leader's Branislav Braca Radovanovic intriguing and playful compositions that provide Drnch with a sonic allure that provides enjoyable listening. As a composer and bandleader, Radovanovic unveiled a strong band concept with Poluostrvo and this well-crafted follow-up is another bold step in that direction. He has all kinds of chops both as a player and a writer, and he puts them to heavy use on arrangements that are tight, complex and playful.
The key element to opener "FNR-Y," is both mellowness and playfulness. It starts with a long Ribot-esque guitar intro where the band gradually introduces itself and the track builds on a slight marching rhythm and melodic saxophone lines, while guest Dzijan Emin provides his trademark keyboard solo. Overall, the melodic lines give this tune the impression of a soundtrack theme. The following "Hugo" is an intriguing composition with the shadow of Zorn's Masada quartet over it. It is pure joy to hear the guitar lines and the saxophone playing independently of each other and boiling slowly this composition until its rapturous conclusion. This piece also evinces the mutuality of the quintet's process, where fluid, responsive interaction is as important as dealing out solos.
Several apparently disconnected influences coalesce on Drnch, beyond Zorn/Ribot/downtown influences. "Jel Surfujes?" (Do you surf?) is a punkish rock track but with funky rhythms, brass section and somewhat Peter Gunn theme-like lines. That robust rock riffing and rapid-fire bits are also present on "Ala Hendrix" (or "Hendix-like") and is all fun until they all arrive together at the end. There is some brilliant and groovy drumming by drummer Tom Fedja Franklin that provides the roll for the funk. On the other hand, the soprano saxophone struggles to keep up with the rest of the band and the piece would be better without it. "Melanholija" is a slow and moody track that resembles a film noir soundtrack. It is thick with harmonies and syncopation, but it shares with the other material a plaintive melody that develops with care toward emotion.
As a composer, Radovanovic is a deft hand, and he pays great attention to harmony and rhythm while still allowing for maximum improvisational freedom. "Hej, hej" is particularly tightly composed, and interestingly enough, beside the sinuous melody and the call and response between the guitar and the brass section, the mid section is a playground for Radovanovic, a brilliant soloist, who takes on delicate solos and melodies, that recall the finest and rockiest moments of Ribot's Los Cubanos Postizos era. The closing track "Pijeta" is a masterpiece. It's loaded with color, mood, and harmonic shade, but really lives in the players' subtle inflections of line and timbre. It is hazy and shimmering.
Each of the compositions on Drnch delivers a kind of variety and focus. Fish in Oil stand at the middle of what is called jazz, leaning towards more avant-garde and noisier sounds on this second outing of theirs. Drnch presents the band broadening its compositional palette and deepening and widening its influences and references into a mixture that is their own.