Slavic Soul Party! | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Slavic Soul Party! 

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Matt Moran is not only one of New York's most original jazz vibists and a founding member of the Claudia Quintet, he's also a key figure in the city's thriving Gypsy rock scene, documented last year on the two-disc comp Mehanata: New York Gypsymania (Bulgarian Bar). It's an uneven set, encompassing the well-known (Gogol Bordello, Balkan Beat Box) and the obscure (Zagnut Cirkus Orkestar, Guignol); Moran's group Slavic Soul Party! stood out as one of the few that can balance its manic energy and irreverent spirit with a deep understanding of eastern European folk forms and the chops to play them. On its 2002 debut, In Makedonija, the group was a quintet, so it sounded overmatched when it ventured into the repertoires of the Boban Markovic Orkestar or the Kocani Orkestar--both of which have horn sections larger than SSP's whole lineup. But on the recent Bigger (Barbes), Moran's leading eight musicians, and with that broader palette he works wonders. The album mixes originals and traditional Romanian, Bulgarian, and Serbian tunes, and the band does a bang-up job navigating the breakneck tempos, gonzo time signatures, and razor-sharp counterpoint that define the brass band sound. I still think SSP would be squashed like bugs if they went head-to-head with their inspirations, but Moran doesn't pretend to be a purist: he brings in trombones and accordion and makes room for the huzzahs of a New Orleans second line. Plus he's clever about his song choices, covering the Meters' "Look-Ka Py Py" and interpolating the Lee Dorsey classic "Ya-Ya" with a tune of the same name by Balkan pop star Goran Bregovic. But mostly SSP focuses on wild eastern European dance music, with Moran leading the way with a contraption that combines a cymbal and a bass drum. The current lineup features some killer jazz improvisers, like reedist Oscar Noriega and trombonist Jacob Garchik, but onstage it's the band's reckless abandon that hits you first. Thu 4/27, 10 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo, 312-362-9707, $10 in advance, $12 at the door.

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