Boban Markovic Orkestar,
The Promise
(Piranha, 2006)

Boban Markovic leads the most successful of the Balkan brass bands. Some of the raucous New Orleans groups -- the Dirty Dozen, for example -- will give you a rough idea of what it sounds like. But Markovic is part of a much older and more exotic tradition that traces its origin back to the Turks' first use of the violent sound of trumpets and drums to terrify enemies during battle in the 13th century. Less martial descendants, such as the Turkish gypsy brass bands of the early 19th century, have led to the current Balkan versions.

If all of this sounds rather fusty, know that today's Balkan brass bands often attract impressive crowds. An annual Serbian competition of the best such groups has an audience of 300,000, and lead trumpeters have the status of rock stars. In 2000, the last time he competed, Boban Markovic won the First Trumpet award with a perfect score from the judges and his band won Best Orchestra.

You'll get no argument from me. This is the most consistently exciting and entertaining brass band I've ever heard, New Orleans not excepted, and both Boban and his son Marko Markovic play with technique that rivals the best of jazz and classical trumpet players.

Most of the 14 tunes were written by either Boban or Marko. They are also the primary arrangers. Nine brass players and three percussionists dominate. A reedman (sax and clarinet) solos on half the tracks, and a female vocalist on just one.

Turkish gypsies may have been the major influence but, as with so many forms of popular music in our Internet world, many additional flavors can now be heard. They include the music of North Africa, Mexico and Asia, jazz, college marching bands and even klezmer. Trust me, it all hangs together.

The first track, "Latino," with a rhythm that fits the title, at times suggests a tango. The only vocal, "Ajde, Ajde Fato (C'mon, C'mon Fato)," is next. Jelena Markovic has surely heard Egyptian pop stars such as Natasha Atlas, though she's singing in Macedonian, while Erol Demirov appropriately has his clarinet sounding much like the note-bending Arabian nay. (Be warned that the trumpeters sometimes bend a note as well. The result will sound colorful -- or sour -- depending on your listening experience.)

Lively tempos are the rule. A couple of the virtuoso showcases sound like Harry James' "Flight of the Bumblebee" with said insect on steroids. Rhythms are pleasingly complex yet swinging. I especially liked the cheeky, rambunctious beats of "Erolka (Erol's Tune)" and "Hansko Svitanje (Dawn at Vladicin Han)."

Fans of New Orleans brass bands who are willing to stretch their ears a bit, and listeners who just like good trumpet and flugelhorn playing, will find this one a delight from beginning to end. Enthusiastically recommended: 300,000 Slavs can't be wrong.

review by
Ron Bierman

18 October 2008

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new