poniedziałek, 4 czerwca 2012

The music from the Balkans has so much to offer - interview with Jordan Shapiro

Choban Elektrik's debut album is for me one of the biggest surprises this year. I interviewed this Brooklyn, New York trio leader Jordan Shapiro.

When and why did you started interesting in Balkan music?

I first started listening to Balkan music in early 2008 after attending the annual Golden Festival, held here in NYC every January. The weekend-long festival features 50-60 different bands, all performing music from the Balkans and other Eastern European regions. I really enjoyed all the different styles of music played at the festival and decided I wanted to learn how to play some of those tunes on my newly purchased accordion.

What's so appealing in Balkan music?

The music from the Balkans has so much to offer in way of rhythms, harmonies, melodies, improvisations, and instrumentation.
Each region has its own distinct style that sounds completely different from the others.
There's so much 'soul' in all the music. It feels so old and full of history and 'real'. It's also very challenging at times to play, and I love a good challenge in music!

When the idea of putting those traditional tunes to jazz rock emerge? Was it hard to do that?

I started learning the tunes on the accordion but really didn't have anyone to play them with here in Brooklyn. Dave Johnsen and Phil Kester (the bassist and drummer in "Choban Elektrik") are old friends of mine, and we had regularly been getting together at my rehearsal space in Brooklyn for informal jam sessions where we would play a wide range of tunes, including American covers, prog-rock tunes, jazz, some of Dave's original music, and lots of improvisations. Over the 2 years that I was learning some of the Balkan music, I began introducing some them to Dave and Phil. We started playing them as if they were any other tune we played the same night. They had never studied the Balkan folk music so they approached it the same we they would approach a Zappa tune, for instance.

 It was not too difficult to make the transition, as it was a brand new thing for all of us. We quickly could tell that we were doing something we all enjoyed.

Is Balkan music popular in New York City?

Yes, there are many different bands in the NYC area that perform Balkan folk music, ranging from brass bands to string bands, to a capella groups, and more.

I would say that most people who go see live music of any sort in NYC area on a regular basis are aware of the Balkan music bands. Most of the Balkan bands perform at the jazz clubs or 'world music' clubs and sometimes perform in outdoors festivals. Very rarely do any of the bands perform in the rock clubs.

It's not your first band, in what other music projects were you involved?

I play a lot of American roots music, such as bluegrass music and old-time Appalachian music. I've always played rock music, usually in the progressive / art-rock area. I've led my own bluegrass band "Astrograss" since 2003, and I now also play accordion and sing in a zydeco (creole music from southwestern Louisiana) band. I also played in the Frank Zappa tribute band "Project/Object" for many years. (As did our bass player Dave Johnsen)

You approached very live sound on "Choban Elektrik". Was it recorded in one take?

Yes, all the tracks were recorded live in a studio with all musicians in the same room playing at the same time together. We probably recorded 2 or 3 takes of each song on that one day of recording. We did a couple overdubs (vocals, accordion and synthesizer) at the engineer's home studio a couple weeks later.

Do you plan to tour with Choban Elektrik?

We'd love to tour. We're currently looking for opportunities. Nothing planned right now, but we hope to bring our music to places all over the globe.

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