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The Middle Eastern Flavors of NYC

By Benji Knudsen

If the music of Matt Darriau’s Paradox Trio (see interview this issue), than there is a lot more from where that came from. For one, stay tuned to for the next issue of the Vermont Review which features an interview with guitarist Dave Fiuczynski who has dabbled with the Balkan/Klezmer/Middle East sounds with his own band, Kif.

Recently, there have also been three notable releases that take a foray into the music of Europe/Middle East – Triduga, Brad Shepik and Rhapsodalia. New York City’s Triduga (three friends) is a trio consisting of accordionist Yuri Lemenshev, guitarist Brad Shepik and Tony Scherr, who plays the contrabass balaika (a triangular three-string instrument used often in Russian folk songs). Triduga(Love Slave Records, 2000) is their debut eponymous release. Both Lemenshev and Shepik bring the knowledge from spending time in the Paradox Trio while Scherr has played with the Lounge Lizards and the Sex Mob as well as served as a sideman for guitarists Bill Frisell and John Scofield. With the accordion playing of Yuri Lemenshev, visions of gypsy caravans come to mind. Shepik’s acoustic guitar playing throughout the album is superb and gives the listener and softer, more the real version of Eastern European music. For more info, head on over to www.lvslv.com.

Outside of Triduga, Shepik keeps the Middle Eastern vibe going with his release, The Well (Songlines, 1999). In comparison to the soft guitar lines of Triduga, Shepik takes a more aggressive approach with his guitar. Often mirroring guitar styles of Mark Ribot, John McLaughlin, Michael Hedges or Jim Hall, Shepik manufactures a fine blend of jazz, rock and traditional musical styles not to distant from the approach of Vermont’s Jazz Mandolin Project. While JMP’s Jamie Masefield uses his mandolin to blend the various American musical styles, Shepik the electric and acoustic guitar as well as the saz and tambura to make a once distant musical form feel very close to home. For The Well, saxophonist Peter Epstein, bassist Skuli Sverrison, drummer Michael Sarin and percussionist Seido Salifoski, a veteran of Matt Darriau’s Paradox Trio join Shepik. The five do an excellent job at extrapolating all of the idiosyncrasies of Eastern music and integrating them into a modern jazz/groove context. For more info on the amazing catalog at Songlines, go to www.songlines.com.

Rhapsodalia is fronted by Edward Ratliff, who takes command of the cornet, trumpet, trombone, euphonium (similar to a baritone tuba) and accordion. Four talented musicians join Ratliff: Michael Attias (saxophone), Sam Barfield (violin), John Hebert (bass) and Kevin Norton (drums). Together, these musicians have a resume consisting of John Zorn, David Krakauer, Anthony Braxton, Greg Osby and Kitty Brazelton. On this release, Wong Fei-Hong Meets Little Strudel(Strudelmedia, 2001), Ratliff and company take on the inconceivable notion of combining the music of Kung Fu soundtracks and Middle Eastern music. In comparison to Triduga, the music of Rhapsodalia is upbeat and in your face and more similar to Shepik’s solo work. Think Fiddler on the Roof meets The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and you make get a tiny grasp about what this music all about. Think swing jazz meets polka. Check it out for yourself at www.strudel.net.