Eastern Blok | Self Published (2007)
By Budd Kopman
After the whirlwind experience of Goran Ivanovic Group (Balkan Song Records, 2006), the group, which
has remained stable, changed its named to Eastern Blok. Incredible as it might seem, Folk Tales is
tighter and more complex than the first album, while retaining the earlier energy and abandon.
While virtuoso guitarist Goran Ivanoic remains the nominal leader of the group and main composer,
Doug Rosenberg (reeds), Matt Ulery (bass) and Michael Caskey (drums and percussion) are further
integrated into the group sound. This sound is a mix of Balkan folk music and some Klezmer, with the
jazz aesthetic of improvisation wrapped in an impossibly high-energy drive that also brings in very
heavy bass lines.
The pulse moves relentlessly forward, always given a kick by the odd meter, odd phrase length or out
of phase repeated note groupings. The effect is mesmerizing, the bass and drums acting as one to
viscerally push the listener this way and that.
Over this extremely physical, almost brutal yet dancing underpinning, Rosenberg plays either unison
with Ivanovic or flies over it all, seemingly free yet always in touch. Ivanovic plays many roles,
constantly changing between supporting the rhythm, adding harmonic complexity and soloing.
The music can also be beautiful. “Sorrow's Secret” lowers the energy a bit, with long lines played by
guest cellist Michael Freilich. The track builds to a romantic climax as Caskey pushes ever forward,
cresting and then ending with a classical guitar tremolo.
The arrangements on Folk Tales are perhaps the main advance in that the players' roles are
continuously inverted and mixed, creating different textures and sounds. Eastern Blok is most definitely
a band to catch live, because the energy pouring from the speakers would only intensify in a club.
Visit Eastern Blok on the web.
Track listing: Tango Pajdusko; Songs From The Black Sea; Balkan Healer; Sorrow's Secret; Kopanista; The
Moon in the Labyrinth; Sapik; Wisdom of the Sands; Tricycle.
Personnel: Doug Rosenberg: tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute; Goran Ivanovic: guitars,
bouzouki; Matt Ulery: acoustic bass, electric bass; harmonium; Michael Caskey: drums, percussion;
Michael Freilich: cello (4).
BUDD KOPMAN - ALL ABOUT JAZZ (FEB 25, 2008)
Eastern Blok | Folk Tales (s/r) Written by Kevin Renick
Wednesday, 12 December 2007
This incredibly talented ensemble conceive a fiery blend of Middle Eastern exoticism and the folk
traditions of the Balkans.
Instrumental music of any obvious complexity is tough to reviewyou don't want to lose half the
readership by getting overly technical about what various instruments are doing, but you also don't
want to make a quick getaway by just saying stuff like this song is upbeat, this song sounds kinda
sad, etc. Eastern Blok certainly deserves better than that. This incredibly talented ensemble, who
previously went by the name The Goran Ivanovic Group, conceive a fiery blend of Middle Eastern
exoticism and the folk traditions of the Balkans on their exciting new album Folk Tales.
Although Eastern Blok can be accurately characterized as a band that welds classical and jazz together
(Ivanovic himself is a classical guitar virtuoso), there's a wildly inventive mix of atmospheres on this
record that transcends categories. The opening Tango Pajdusko serves up dazzling arpeggios and a
vaguely ominous mood, like someone pushing forward through the darkness with intense
concentration, trying to get clear of some unnamed threat. It's gripping as hell. So is Songs from the
Black Sea, which features Ivanovic's stellar bouzouki playing in its mix of instruments. Sorrow's Secret
is an apt title for an evocative track that offers one of the album's most fluid, inspired arrangements.
The clarity of the sound here is awe-inspiring and special kudos should be given to Downbeat
Magazine Award winner Michael Caskey's remarkable percussion.
Stuff like this usually gets filed under World Music, where it's doomed to be part of the esoteric set
that only collegiate musicians and reviewers are privy to. That's especially true of longer musical
excursions like Kopanitsa (an engrossing number that practically flies a World Music banner above
your head as it plays) and Sapik. The mesmerizing Wisdom of the Sands takes you to a place far, far
away and drops you there for awhile, with a harmonium adding deep ambience to the string
instruments otherwise painting the tonal colors. This track in particular could easily be utilized in the
soundtrack of some film set in the farthest reaches of eastern Europe.
Without a doubt, Eastern Blok play with a sense of complete urgency throughout this record. Yet the
unparalleled discipline of these players is balanced by a fine sense of aesthetics and the value of
showcasing each instrument's sonic flavoring in the context of genuinely compelling compositions. You
don't need to be a musician or a hepcat to appreciate the dynamic nature of Eastern Blok's work. You
just need to sit back and let the powerhouse playing take you on a wild, mysterious ride.
KEVIN RENICK - PLAYBACK:STL (DEC 12, 2007)