The languid sway of “Urn St. Tavern,” the first track from Devil’s Tale, is perhaps as sluggish as things get on the brilliant new record from Canadian guitarist Adrian Raso and Balkan brass band Fanfare Ciocarlia. The disc is a dozen chunks of hot fire, brought alive with Raso’s uncommon fretwork and the sheer monstrousness that is Fanfare Ciocarlia.
For the guitarist, whose dream it was to delve into the cosmos of gypsy jazz, working with “the world’s greatest Balkan brass band” is more than a spectacular opportunity. It comes off like a meeting of the minds, like a forging of demonic magic far beneath the earth. While death metal may take ownership of the symbolic nature of darkness, these cats play so frenetically that only Beelzebub could be behind it. Along with the many members of Fanfare Ciocarlia and Raso, Devil’s Tale features the talents of Extreme’s Kevin Figueiredo (drums) and Rodrigo y Gabriela’s Rodrigo (guitars). John Jorgenson also lends his axe.
Through rapid-fire jaunts like “C’est La Vie” and the title track, Raso aand Fanfare Ciocarlia unlock realms of toe-tapping bliss. On the latter, Raso’s guitar carries from jazz to blues to even surf music within the same phrase. And the brass blasts from the band punch up the notes, building into a call-and-response passage that necessitates movement from the listener. Along the meaty speed of the first cut is “The Absinthe-Minded Gypsy,” a clever number that carves its way through its catchy refrain with a mixture of instruments. All the while, the low end continues to roll like an uneven cart navigating some bumpy terrain.
Fanfare Ciocarlia, with their mission statement to keep authentic gypsy music alive, seem impossible to contain. The band from the isolated Romanian village of Zece Prajini first took their brand of Balkan brass to Europe in 1997 and have been dominating ever since. They’ve played all over the world, have eight albums to their name and even chimed in on the Borat soundtrack. Very nice.
Raso has been building quite a name for himself as well. The Guelph-born guitarist has released two EPs and six LPs, starting in 2005 with Black Mamba. His technique, along with his charity work with London’s Children’s Hospital, has never failed to amaze. So when his fretwork takes hold on Devil’s Tale’s best track, “Quattro Cicci,” it’s hard not to reach for that volume knob and crank it all the way up to 11. He erupts through the danceable tune and, with horns blazing, pares out a solo that simply smokes.
For fast-paced, funky, fun music, Devil’s Tale is the ticket. The combination of Raso and Fanfare Ciocarlia is written in the stars — or fatefully imprinted on a smouldering rock deep down below.
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