Slavic Soul Party! at Club Helsinki

What do you get when you combine jazz, gypsies, and greatness? Why, Slavic Soul Party!! (As enthusiastic as I am about the band, I did not add an extra exclamation — there are two because the band already has one in its name. This should be a clue as to how exciting Slavic Soul Party! is.) Having played at Club Helsinki when the venue was still in Great Barrington, MA, the band returned to play the venue in its new home of Hudson, NY last Friday night. Although they did not have an opening band, nor did they need one, kicking off the show spontaneously was not in fact the musicians of Slavic Soul Party! Rather, it was someone who accidentally broke a glass as the band took the stage, drawing cheers from the other audience members and the musicians alike as well as shouts of “Opa!” before the band began its night of entertainment. When the band did start to play, the brass and drums did so on-stage while the accordionist started at the back of the room winding his way to the front. Hearty from the first song, Slavic Soul Party! warned that they were warming us up slowly and this turned out to be surprisingly true as the intensity simply gathered in force throughout the night.

The members of Slavic Soul Party! are Peter Hess on alto sax and clarinet, Matt Musseslman on trombone, Timothy Vaughn on trombone, John Carlson on trumpet, Kenny Warren on trumpet, Ronald Caswell on tuba, Peter Stan  on accordion, Matt Moran on bass drum, and Chris Stromquist on snare drum. Although saxophone is technically a woodwind and Slavic Soul Party! also boasts a clarinetist, an accordionist, and two drummers, the brass instruments outnumber the others so for the purposes of this blog we’ll consider Slavic Soul Party! a brass band (as the musicians themselves do).


Slavic Soul Party’s music has a piercing intensity, and the energy the musicians exude is infectious. That energy spreads throughout the room just as the music does, and Slavic Soul Party’s show turned into one big festive dance party. I really didn’t think that Slavic Soul Party would motivate otherwise shy attendees to dance, but I underestimated the band’s power and there was a healthy crowd doing just that in front of the stage, particularly towards the end of the night. As for the band, throughout the entire show Matt danced, ran down off of the stage, got down on his knees, and jumped nimbly — especially considering the weight of his drum — back on-stage only to join the audience once more on another song. Then, to close the show the entire cast of Slavic Soul Party! joined the audience members in the (by that point densely populated) floor area in front of the stage and danced along with them, all the while continuing to churn out hypnotic and dizzying tunes.

The songs Slavic Soul Party! plays are rich, weighty, and possess incredible beauty. The musicians have intense passion for the music, and they stir it into a state of fervor. That’s how this kind of music was meant to be played but sadly isn’t always, and the band members approach their playing in a deeply humanistic way. The assorted instruments call with a voice mimicking that of a person’s speaking or wailing, and the melody lines are complex and compelling. While some of the songs are tense yet subdued, many others explode with vibrant force. Slavic Soul Party! has a contemporary edge and there are undertones or hip-hop as well as a heavier than traditional jazz influence in the band’s sound, but all these aspects blend and dissolve into the authentic Eastern European roots that run deep in the music. There’s nothing in the world quite as pleasing as a big, beautiful, Balkan brass band, nor is there one quite as spectacular as Slavic Soul Party!!! (note the two added exclamations this time).

Here are videos from the show: 

Baltika

Gajda

Seva

Romp

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