Slavic Soul Party
Here’s a band that likes to see and hear different cultures and musics bump up against each other. Hailing from all over the U.S. as well as Japan, Slavic Soul Party celebrates Balkan music, second line grooves, articulate jazz-informed solos and other bits and pieces. Teknochek Collision gracefully finds commonality in Serbian folk tunes and Balkanized Western fare–the band’s cover of Alan Toussaint’s “Have A Beer” fits comfortably between traditionals “DPR Cupr” and “Rumenka Takes A Drive”–but does scale back on the bombast of Bigger and is better sounding than on In Makedonija. Happily, the band isn’t all about beating the listener over the head with brass bombast, creating a nice accordion and voice (from guest ESP) interlude on “Djelem Djelem.” Word is that the disc is a tribute to band friend Gus Dejan, a Serbian/Gypsy/American guy who ran an auto body shop in Queens, but like so many immigrant stories, there are universal themes that can reach out and touch each of us.
Q&A WITH MATT MORAN
Many of the band members come from a jazz background. How does this influence the music, which sounds fairly anchored in simple folk music song structure?
Well, keep in mind that most people come to jazz from another music these days. I came to jazz from punk and classical music; Oscar Noriega came from playing Mexican music in Tucson; Take Toriyama came from playing rock in Japan. So no one is boxed in by jazz. That said, jazz in its roots is a folk music song structure too, where you add your personality to it by soloing—and that's what happens in SSP too.
How much work goes into these songs before recording? As with jazz, do they continue to evolve live?
A lot of the horn lines are really intricate in the music we play, so it takes a lot of attention to get the tunes to a performance level. Then, especially with traditional tunes we're interpreting, we like to perform them a ton before recording them, until we get comfortable enough with it to screw it up. Our jazz backgrounds come out in the way we like to change things up, and try to give each performance of a tune its own vibe, so they definitely evolve.
I hear a lot of connections between New Orleans brass and the Slavic tradition, plus you guys even did a Meters song on your last album. Was this connection the case before American bands started drawing parallels?
I'm sitting here answering your questions from New Orleans, on Lundi Gras, in the middle of a great carnival. I definitely feel connections in the music, like certain rhythmic similarities, and beyond that in the social context of both Balkan and New Orleans music and musicians. Both Balkan brass (from Slavic-speaking countries in the Balkans) and North American brass (from places like New Orleans, Mexico, the United House of Prayer) are mash-ups of a bunch of different cultures and traditions. So we're part of the tradition because of, not despite, our own unique mix of influences.
So you are the "official #1 Brass band for Balkan-soul-gypsy-funk." When was this officially declared and by whom?
The designation was the idea of Gus Dejan, and we've embraced it. We had the ceremony after that, in 2003, at the top of the Empire State Building, when both Maceo Parker and Bulgarian Gypsy cross-dressing pop diva Azis were in town on tour. Through some crazy finagling, we got them both up there at the same time, and gave them a certificate to sign for us, but then while we were all drinking a toast, a massive blast of wind blew it over the edge, and now we have no proof.