The new Slavic Soul Party! is the culmination of a ten year journey which has taken these Brooklyn pioneers of Balkan and Gypsy music from the backroom of Barbès to Turkey, Serbia, and Carnegie Hall. Taketron is a perfect balance of their mix of New York, New Orleans and Macedonian funk.
As with fellow Balkan fusionists like Gogol Bordello (which has featured SSP! on album) and Balkan Beat Box (who borrows SSP! members for tours and recordings), SSP! has connected with audiences at home and abroad. When at home the nine-piece band (give or take a few members, depending on the night) can be found playing Tuesday nights at Barbès. The band has also made key appearances at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, played weddings and rock clubs, as well as brass band festivals in the Balkans.
“We’ve seen this huge explosion of brass bands in the U.S. and in Europe in the last eight years” says band leader Matt Moran, “and it begs a question: why are all these young kids getting into this music when they should be running to the turntables and the electric guitars? Brass bands are like living off the grid or growing your own food: a lot more trouble, a lot more rewarding, and fundamentally subversive. We’re not wearing the school uniform, playing the electric guitar, or taking the easy path.”
Word is getting out, as recently displayed on the band’s second time through San Francisco. “We got on stage and played our hearts out, and I look up 20 minutes in and we had 450 people in this club and people were crowd surfing and singing along,” recalls Moran. What is particularly remarkable is that the fans were singing along to a set of all original songs. A testament to their growing fanbase and underground reputation.
After ten years and four albums, has finally managed to impose their own rules and authenticit. Taketron is their strongest, most accomplished album to date and will surely keep influencing and intriguing musicians from Balkan brass bands like the Boban Markovic Orchestra to indie rockers Arcade Fire, punk duo The Dresden Dolls, Les Claypool, and Sufjan Stevens to name a few. There’s no wonder Sufjan Stevens was quoted saying to Rolling Stone about SSP!’s music, “It’s terrifying, exhausting, and way more aggressive than a lot of the punk music I’ve seen.” Probably why the above-mentioned rockers have asked SSP! to open for them.
SSP! once again mixes the modern with the tradition on Taketron, an album overflowing with compositions and arrangements from different members of the band. According to Moran, “I think Taketron really shows our original style, more so than any of our other records. People in the U.S. assume that we are playing traditional Balkan music, but people over there who play in bands say that we totally have our own style. I think with this record we are going to clear up any confusion.”
Taketron showcases its hybridity in “Sancti Petri,” which was originally a flamenco guitar tune, or the more electronic music inspired rhythms on tunes like the title track. SSP! also demonstrates how they breath new life to more traditional sounding tunes like the gospel classic “Canaan Land” and a little Romanian/Moldovan gem “Sarba” (which could pass for a Raymond Scott cartoon classic). Regardless, this band has it own ideas of what a brass band is and it’s big, vivid and brazen if not always Balkan. Yet there is subtlety here as well – enjoy the gentle playfulness of that ska-like backbeat on “Sviraj Srecko” and savor the slow elegiac opening to “Hymn,” a closer that lets you catch your breath before a final farewell.
Featuring top-notch players from four of the five NYC boroughs including a drummer with ro n Cuba, a trombone player from the southern gospel tradition, an accordion player – a rare instrument in a brass band – from a Balkan Rom (Gypsy) family, a Japanese drummer with a rock star past, and a saxophone player from a Mexican family in Arizona, SSP! is composed of musicians from New York’s downtown jazz scene as well as those who play diverse styles. Moran does this because he likes the creativity and openness that these band members bring to the group.
According to the percussionist, “There has to be a willingness to throw yourself in and forget your ego. To surrender to the Balkan style and trust that your sound will come through. But because of who we are as residents of this crazy technofied place [New York City], all these other influences are gonna come out too. If we put ourselves on the line, we get something electrifying: it sounds kind of Balkan and kinda not; kinda American and kinda funk and soul.”
Barbès label head Olivier Conan explains it best: “SSP!’s music is like ‘surf music’ for the 21st century: instrumental music for this generation with the same bite, insane energy and exotic flavors. Taketron is SSP’s first album to capture it all. They are completely liberated from the arbitrary constraints of having to represent another culture’s music. Instead, they have re-invented their own culture.” After 10 years of tinkering with hybrid shapes, Taketron is SSP!’s first perfect machine.
“Madcap rhythms, hyperactive horns, a sense of
the absurd, and just a hint of abstract jazz…
everything you could want in a record.”
(All Things Considered, NPR)
“Think Parliament mixed with Gogol Bordello and a dash of Beirut and you’ll have a fairly clear benchmark by which to judge Slavic Soul Party!… blending a wide range of sounds into a thematically constant, but stylistically varied, masterpiece.” [9 out of 10] –
“A magnificent, daring ride that broadens the group’s horizons, and consolidates their previous glory.”
All Music Guide
“They’ve gathered what they needed abroad and have brought it all back home to create a Balkan brass-band tradition of their own.”
“The new album Taketron pushes the band’s genre boundaries even further.”
“Taketron (barbes) is a shining example of the new Romany hybridity.”
– San Francisco Bay Guardian
” Dusts off the Old World with a peculiar yet logical and very cool connection to ska and flamenco, and especially with dance-club music, courtesy Japanese drummer Take Toriyama’s electronic-inspired polyrhythms.
– Los Angeles Weekly
“With last week’s release of the SSP’s fourth CD, “Taketron,” the turbocharged nine-piece ensemble makes a major creative leap by cross-fertilizing its Balkan roots with an array of far-flung influences, including funk, ska, flamenco and jazz. In many ways the group’s sound reflects the multiplicity of styles and traditions coursing through the borough.”
San Jose Mercury News
Since its inception SSP! has roused crowds in
Serbia, Macedonia, and Turkey, won over
Warped Tour skatepunks and BBC commentators,
and dazzled everyone from Saban Bajramovic to
Sufjan Stevens. The group’s residency at Barbès —
a small, seminal nightclub in Brooklyn — has become
a gathering for international musicians and the nexus
of East Coast gypsy punk, not because SSP! is
comprised of scenesters, but because the band
is undeniably world class…”
“Of all the NYC dance bands that draw on
Eastern European music, Slavic Soul Party!
is the coolest[…] Live, the band’s members
prove they are acutely aware of the common
principle that unites the traditions they borrow
from: Music ought to move you.”