How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Balkan brass bands are large aggregations with lots of brass, a tuba/drum/percussion backbeat (one of the most infectious things on earth) and hot soloing by trumpets, saxophones, clarinets and assorted other instruments. They have for some time been drawing large crowds in NYC nightspots such as the Knitting Factory, Brooklyn's Barbes and even boast their own yearly NYC Golden Festival. Bands like Romashka, Zagnut Cirkus, Frank London's Brotherhood of Brass and Slavic Soul Party pay homage to the "old country" super groups such as trumpeter Boban Markovic's legendary brass band but do so by putting their own American take on the genre. They intertwine klezmer, Rom, Latin, funk, jazz and other ethnically driven musics into the overall mix for a sound that gets you dancing and, of course, drinking. Orkestar Zirkonium, from the somewhat unlikely quarter of Seattle, Washington, is the latest offering in this eclectic and highly danceable genre.
Things kick off with a literal hand-clapper entitled "Heavy the Foreign Land" that immediately showcases the hot polyrhythmic intertwines of percussionists Paul Kikuchi and Sari Breznau, bass drummer Anne Mathews and drummer Matt Manges. Zirkonium has a big full sound thanks, in large part, to Jerry Neufield-Kaiser's pumping tuba which sets a frenetic pace on the burning "Hot Coals," also featuring a slick clarinet solo from Kevin Hinshaw. A decidedly nasty trumpet section (Stephen Lohrentz, Ted Lockery and Samantha Boshnack) combine for great voicings that evince more than a hint of Eastern-European ethos while at times Latin, Spanish and jazz seep through for a great multi-ethnic stew. Such is the case on "The Mimbo" where Serbian and Latin brass find common ground against a pulsating beat, and the frenetic "Rusasca De La Buzdug" nearly careens out of controlbut somehow stays on trackfor a wild brass infested excursion.
While many of these cuts start out fast and get quicker there is a soft, almost elegant side to the band as well. This is expressed most obviously in the delightful new music composed by trombonist Colin Ernst: the beautifully meandering "Guillotine" slowly snakes to its inevitable swift conclusion, "A New Light" has a stately klezmer-esque feel and the emotive pathos of "The Purge" is portrayed as a classically injected Spanish symphony. A hidden cut is the perfect denouement as all solemnly reflect on what was one hell of a great ride.
This is great "tukhes" shaking music with a depth of composition and style that keeps it from becoming cartoonishOrkestar Zirkonium is the real deal.
Track Listing: Heavy the Foreign Land; Hot Coals; Solo Tapan; Bury Your Dead; Mimbo; Rusasca de la Buzdug; Guillotine; A New Light; Aase Hechchagide; Zece Prajini; The Purge; Nekemtenemmutogatol Oro; Hidden Cut.
Personnel: Stephen Lohrentz: trumpet; Ted Lockery: trumpet; Samantha Boshnack: trumpet; Ivan Molton: alto saxophone; Kevin Hinshaw: clarinet; Whitney Neufeld-Kaiser: alto horn; Colin Ernst: trombone; Jeff Walker: trombone; Donn Cave: baritone saxophone, tuba; Jerry Neufeld-Kaiser: tuba; Matt Manges: drums; Sari Breznau: percussion; Anne Mathews: bass drum; Paul Kikuchi, percussion.