Slavic Soul Party!: Taketron

[24 September 2009]

By Andrew Dietzel

Inside the case of Taketron is a brief note from Slavic Soul Party!: “Words fail us.  Listen.”  It is a bold and commanding statement, to be sure, but one that still endears as a promise of something more vibrant and robust than mere words can express.  Not that this nine-piece brass band has ever relied on lyrics to convey their message; the instruments operate as each individual member’s respective mouthpiece, sounding off a prayer or a poem, a monologue or a diatribe, and an expression of joy or sadness in an eclectic collision of Balkan tradition and funky soul.  And when all of those voices come together under the banner of Slavic Soul Party!, the result is a culturally cohesive chorus of groove-laden expositions that, in their own uniquely celebratory way, reflect the poignancy of life.
It’s clear that this process has been honed to the point of second nature after SSP! collaborated to produce Taketron, the group’s fourth studio album in ten years.  The title itself honors Japanese drummer Take Toriyama’s affinity for electronic music, though this element is almost negligible on the album, unnoticeable except for a few fleeting moments.  In that regard the name is a little misleading, as the focus is still very much on creating an amalgam between distinct but similar musical styles, but it everything is so tight and masterful it doesn’t really matter.  The only difference from previous efforts here is that SSP!’s repertoire has expanded to include definitive American elements such as jazz and gospel.
Think Parliament mixed with Gogol Bordello and a dash of Beirut and you’ll have a fairly clear benchmark by which to judge Slavic Soul Party! in their own version of the Eastern European sound.  There are also some marching band elements included for good measure, tossed in amongst the staccato horns of the album opener and the following “Baltika”.  Amidst the revelry you’ll suddenly be transported back to the pomp of your highschool’s football halftime show, worrying about who you’re going to ask to Homecoming.  There are standards played as well, such as the jovial bursts of “Pavketov Stakato” or the carnival bounce of “Sarba.”  This inclusion of customary Eastern European tunes is important to the overall feeling of the record, acting as a foil to its more swinging American rudiments.
If this variation isn’t enough consider the pensive solemnity of “Canaan Land”, a song steeped in the jazzy Gospel sound of New Orleans.  Then there is SSP!’s take on the flamenco tune “Sancti Petri”, which they’ve turned into unabashed occasion for dancing.  The album closes with the beautiful lamentations of “Hymn”, which builds from a slow introduction into a commemorative mid-tempo pace that solidifies the band’s eager embrace of Balkan backdrop rhythms and the juxtaposition with the band’s own musical influences.
Most instrumental albums tend to sound a bit homogeneous, but Taketron escapes this pitfall by blending a wide range of sounds into a thematically constant, but stylistically varied, masterpiece.  At times a twirling party vehicle, at others a restrained tribute that sometimes takes on a saddened tone, Taketron always manages to be the embodiment of good-natured fun and appreciation.  It’s obvious that Slavic Soul Party! has worked hard to reach this level of creative synergy, with the resulting fluidity of their latest release as impressive proof.  Whether you want to pretend you’re floating down the southern stretch of the Danube with a hospitable group of Romani, enjoying a mojito in a smoky jazz club, or dancing at a house party in the soul of Brooklyn, Taketron has your preference masterfully covered.  Just sit back and, as the band requests, listen.

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