The Arty Semite

Bringing Slavic Soul to Rikers Island

By Keith Meatto

  • Print
  • Share Share
Slavic Soul Party!

As their name implies, Slavic Soul Party! updates traditional Eastern European sounds with a festive, contemporary feel. Their instrumental music conjures carnivals and circuses, pep bands and klezmer bands, James Brown and James Bond. Brooklyn music aficionados may know Slavic Soul Party! from their weekly Tuesday gigs at Barbès; uptowners may have caught them at Carnegie Hall. Like Johnny Cash and B.B. King, the band also plays prisons, with a show on November 19 at Sing Sing Correctional Facility and October 5 at Rikers Island.

There are no vocals in Slavic Soul Party!, which sets them apart from their fellow Gypsy Punk travelers Balkan Beat Box and Gogol Bordello. Instead, they are all about the music. On “Taketron,” their fifth and most recent album on the Barbès label, Slavic Soul Party! unleashes jazz jams over gypsy grooves and military marches. These 13 tunes feature horns, drums, and accordion that play with precision at a punk rock pace, and the volume that makes brass instruments an orchestra’s loudest bunch. If you have a migraine, this isn’t the record for you. But if you want to dance and sweat like you’re at a Baltic bash, then go ahead and press play.

While Slavic Soul Party! revels in their rowdiness, their sound stops short of cacophony and chaos. “Taketron” is eclectic, but never esoteric. The frenzy is mitigated by the catchiness and simplicity of their melodies and harmonies. Listeners should recognize the oompah oompah pulse of “Tatiana” and “Sarba,” a Moldovan folk tune. And the band’s version of “Canaan Land,” a Scottish-American folk tune, sounds like a New Orleans take on “Tutti Frutti.”

Below the trumpet, saxophones, trombones and accordions, bandleader Matt Moran drives the rhythm; his drums help give “Taketron” its rah-rah sound. Moran also shows a multicultural range with his arrangements of songs by Spanish guitarist Gerardo Núñez Díaz and The Rebirth Brass Band. And his arrangement of “Laughter Club” appears in the eponymous film about the practice in India, a subject recently covered in The New Yorker. Moran also plays vibes with avant-garde composer John Hollenbeck, proof of his musical bona fides.

Another key player is trombonist Jacob Garchik, who composed or arranged five songs on “Taketron,” including the title track. Garchick, who appeared on the last several Slavic Soul Party! albums, has released three albums as a solo artist and has worked with heavyweights from the Kronos Quartet to Anthony Braxton.

The players’ pedigrees are reflected in their musicianship, from the tight baritone sax riffs that open the album, to the plaintive trumpet on the last track, “Hymn.” The high-energy “Baltika” features a trombone solo by Brian Drye, who wrote the tune and whose resume includes stints with Hollenbeck and indie rock superstars Arcade Fire. And given the band’s Brooklyn base, their multi-cultural bent, and the party vibe of “Taketron,” it’s not a stretch to guess that “Baltika” alludes to Eastern Europe’s largest brewery, whose beers are sold in Greenpoint, the Polish neighborhood that has evolved into a hipster enclave. L’Chaim!

Listen to Slavic Soul Party! play ‘Baltika’ on WNYC:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Tutti Frutti, Tatiana, Slavic Soul Party, The Rebirth Brass Band, The New Yorker, Taketron, Slavic Music, Sing Sing, Sarba, Rikers Island, New Orleans, Music, Moldovan Music, Matt Moran, Laughter Club, Kronos Quartet, Klezmer, Johnny Cash, John Hollenbeck, James Brown, James Bond, Jacob Garchik, Hymn, Greenpoint, Gogol Bordello, Gerardo Núñez Díaz, Folk Music, Eastern European Music, Carnegie Hall, Canaan Land, Brooklyn Music, Brooklyn Bands, Brooklyn, Brian Drye, Barbès, Baltika, B.B. King, Balkan Beat Box, Anthony Braxton

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.