Eastern Blok | Folk Tales (s/r)

cd_easternblok.jpgThis incredibly talented ensemble conceive a fiery blend of Middle Eastern exoticism and the folk traditions of the Balkans.







Instrumental music of any obvious complexity is tough to review—you don’t want to lose half the readership by getting overly technical about what various instruments are doing, but you also don’t want to make a quick getaway by just saying stuff like "this song is upbeat," "this song sounds kinda sad," etc. Eastern Blok certainly deserves better than that. This incredibly talented ensemble, who previously went by the name The Goran Ivanovic Group, conceive a fiery blend of Middle Eastern exoticism and the folk traditions of the Balkans on their exciting new album Folk Tales.

Although Eastern Blok can be accurately characterized as a band that welds classical and jazz together (Ivanovic himself is a classical guitar virtuoso), there’s a wildly inventive mix of atmospheres on this record that transcends categories. The opening "Tango Pajdusko" serves up dazzling arpeggios and a vaguely ominous mood, like someone pushing forward through the darkness with intense concentration, trying to get clear of some unnamed threat. It’s gripping as hell. So is "Songs from the Black Sea," which features Ivanovic’s stellar bouzouki playing in its mix of instruments. "Sorrow’s Secret" is an apt title for an evocative track that offers one of the album’s most fluid, inspired arrangements. The clarity of the sound here is awe-inspiring and special kudos should be given to Downbeat Magazine Award winner Michael Caskey’s remarkable percussion.

Stuff like this usually gets filed under "World Music," where it’s doomed to be part of the esoteric set that only collegiate musicians and reviewers are privy to. That’s especially true of longer musical excursions like "Kopanitsa" (an engrossing number that practically flies a "World Music" banner above your head as it plays) and "Sapik." The mesmerizing "Wisdom of the Sands" takes you to a place far, far away and drops you there for awhile, with a harmonium adding deep ambience to the string instruments otherwise painting the tonal colors. This track in particular could easily be utilized in the soundtrack of some film set in the farthest reaches of eastern Europe.

Without a doubt, Eastern Blok play with a sense of complete urgency throughout this record. Yet the unparalleled discipline of these players is balanced by a fine sense of aesthetics and the value of showcasing each instrument’s sonic flavoring in the context of genuinely compelling compositions. You don’t need to be a musician or a hepcat to appreciate the dynamic nature of Eastern Blok’s work. You just need to sit back and let the powerhouse playing take you on a wild, mysterious ride. A- | Kevin Renick

RIYL: Mahavishnu Orchestra, klezmer music, adventurous world music

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