After the whirlwind experience of Goran Ivanovic Group (Balkan Song Records, 2006), the group, which has remained stable, changed its named to Eastern Blok. Incredible as it might seem, Folk Tales is tighter and more complex than the first album, while retaining the earlier energy and abandon.
While virtuoso guitarist Goran Ivanoic remains the nominal leader of the group and main composer, Doug Rosenberg (reeds), Matt Ulery (bass) and Michael Caskey (drums and percussion) are further integrated into the group sound. This sound is a mix of Balkan folk music and some Klezmer, with the jazz aesthetic of improvisation wrapped in an impossibly high-energy drive that also brings in very heavy bass lines.
The pulse moves relentlessly forward, always given a kick by the odd meter, odd phrase length or out of phase repeated note groupings. The effect is mesmerizing, the bass and drums acting as one to viscerally push the listener this way and that.
Over this extremely physical, almost brutal yet dancing underpinning, Rosenberg plays either unison with Ivanovic or flies over it all, seemingly free yet always in touch. Ivanovic plays many roles, constantly changing between supporting the rhythm, adding harmonic complexity and soloing.
The music can also be beautiful. "Sorrow's Secret" lowers the energy a bit, with long lines played by guest cellist Michael Freilich. The track builds to a romantic climax as Caskey pushes ever forward, cresting and then ending with a classical guitar tremolo.
The arrangements on Folk Tales are perhaps the main advance in that the players' roles are continuously inverted and mixed, creating different textures and sounds. Eastern Blok is most definitely a band to catch live, because the energy pouring from the speakers would only intensify in a club.
Tango Pajdusko; Songs From The Black Sea; Balkan Healer; Sorrow's Secret; Kopanista; The Moon in the Labyrinth; Sapik; Wisdom of the Sands; Tricycle.
Doug Rosenberg: tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute; Goran Ivanovic: guitars, bouzouki; Matt Ulery: acoustic bass, electric bass; harmonium; Michael Caskey: drums, percussion; Michael Freilich: cello (4).