Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Boban Markovic Orkestar

17 July 2007

Since I first discovered the peerless Serbian brass band - the Boban Markovic Orkestar – after reading a review in Songlines magazine at the beginning of 2003 they have only played one UK date – in May 2003 which I missed as I was flying back from Italy at the time. So when I heard Boban was to play another one-off concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London last weekend I leapt at the chance to see the band live for the first time. They didn't disappoint. Dressed in white shoes, white trousers and round-necked, long-sleeved white t-shirts the 11 members of the Boban Markovic Orkestar looked like an unlikely collection of male nurses preparing to assist in complicated surgery on our eardrums. In front of the band, Boban and his son Marko were the epitome of cool on a sweltering evening. Marko – now in his early twenties – is a rock star with a trumpet. He stands with his feet firmly planted to the floor, his head bent forward to ensure his trumpet gets as close as possible to the microphone, his long black hair tied tightly back in a ponytail and his hips gyrating to the groove. His father constantly prowls the stage – directing the band, instructing the sound engineer and casually slipping into bursts of virtuoso trumpet solos. Boban's medium-length hair is tousled as if an elderly relative has playfully ruffled it. The back of his light blue shirt is soon drenched in sweat. His shoulders are permanently raised in a perpetual shrugging 'whatever' and a satisfied smile plays around his lips.

For me, the Boban Markovic Orkestar are the classiest, slickest, funkiest exponents of the Balkan Gypsy brass sound. They avoid the tendency of many similar bands to demonstrate their virtuosity by making everything extremely fast and frantic – preferring to vary their programme with stunning, unexpected changes of tempo and rhythm. And their rhythms are amazing – complex syncopations supported by five tuba players and three percussionists. There are no clarinets or saxophones here – just tubas (of varying sizes) and trumpets. The sound is absolutely deafening – and even louder when Boban and Marko come out from behind the microphones and play directly without amplification from the front of stage.

There is clearly a great mutual respect within the band. At the end of each number every player acknowledges the audience's acclaim by raising an arm to gesture across the stage towards one of their colleagues to suggest, modestly, where the applause ought to be directed. When the gesture is reciprocated each player turns to honour another member of the band, creating a series of white-clad musical statue tableaus with arms outstretched.

Balkan Gypsy brass is party music but with the Boban Markovic Orkestar it is a serious party. By the time they left the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Hall – having over-run the scheduled finish by an hour! – everyone was on their feet: an unforgettable experience.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home