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Koçani Orkestar - The Ravished Bride

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Artist: Koçani Orkestar

Album: The Ravished Bride

Label: Crammed Discs

Review date: Jan. 16, 2009

Though the Koçani Orkestar made their recorded debut over a decade ago, the group that currently performs under the moniker is a markedly different band than the one that released A Gypsy Brass Band in 1995. Since the troupe, in one form or another, has existed for years, shifts in membership aren’t surprising, but the means by which the group has changed recently are more noteworthy. An acrimonious business disagreement led to a 1999 schism that left founding bandleader/trumpeter/arranger Naat Veliov unable to legally use the Koçani Orkestar name, which had been in his family for decades (Koçani is the town from which Veliov hails). Veliov then founded The Original Koçani Orkestar, natch, along with his brothers and other original Orkestar musicians. Saxophonist Ismail Saliev continues to release albums on Crammed Discs with a largely new (and younger) ensemble under the Koçani Orkestar name.

When Crammed issued Alone at My Wedding in 2002, the effects of Saliev’s takeover were palpable. Moving beyond the traditional Gypsy/Roma brass band fare, the group added two vocalists and new instrumentation in order to focus on traditional Macedonian wedding music, which isn’t as dependent on the booming brass and breakneck tempos as the Orkestar’s typical fare. The Ravished Bride continues the trend in wedding-themed nomenclature, but it casts a wider stylistic net than its predecessor – rooted in the Balkan tradition, but incorporating more in the way diverse stylistic influences. The result is an album that sometimes has a noticeably modern sound, for better and worse.

The Ravished Bride is rife with the Orkestar’s typical Gypsy-influenced sound, though there are plenty of embellishments culled from other musical sources. Given the group’s new life as a wedding band (or at least torch bearers of the tradition), there’s a romantic feel to much of the music, with plenty of slow songs (at least Orkestar standards). Vocalist Anjur Azizov, a sure-voiced, at times overwrought, presence, is usually heard high in the mix, his crooning voice at the forefront of the music. The band’s expanded instrumentation under Svaliev results in tracks like “Mangelma Stoposto,” which takes the band in a poppier, modern direction, or “Atlantis,” featuring Uri Kinrot of Balkan Beat Box. The song is an unfortunate amalgam of surf rock and gypsy brass that seems to neuter the strengths of both genres.

There are other one-off ventures, like “Divansoko” and its nod towards classic funk, but for the most part, Saliev’s prerogative is Putomayo pop. The Ravished Bride engages in nothing so obvious as the modernized ethnic forms of Gogol Bordello or the aforementioned Balkan Beat Box, but even in comparison with Alone at My Wedding, the Saliev-led Orkestar’s debut, this new album comes off a tad too slick. For all the rollicking rhythms and the band’s indisputable energy, there’s a sense of adventure that isn’t fully in bloom.

This isn’t to say that The Ravished Bride is Macedonian-flavored bubblegum. The compositions are often plenty engaging and performed with aplomb. But the Koçani Orkestar is moving in a direction that Naat Veliov likely would not have taken them. And while forgoing tradition for new flavor isn’t always a henious offense, the sharp, glossy nature of The Ravished Bride leaves these ears less satiated than its eponymous newlywed.

By Adam Strohm

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