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Sample Track 1:
"Paun" from The Promise-The King of Balkan Brass (Piranha)
Sample Track 2:
"Beli Dvor" from The Promise-The King of Balkan Brass (Piranha)
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The Promise-The King of Balkan Brass (Piranha)
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Boban Markovic Orkestar, The Promise-The King of Balkan Brass (Piranha Musik) Boban Markovic Orkestar Returns with The Promise

“I didn’t know you could play the trumpet that way”—Miles Davis, upon hearing players at the annual Guèa Brass Band Festival.

Boban Markovic’s music was first introduced to Western audiences through Emir Kusturica’s films Underground and Black Cat White Cat. Boban and his ten-member Orkestar have been Serbia’s leading brass band for the last ten years, consistently winning awards at the annual Guèa Brass Band Festival. The latest Boban Markovic Orkestar album, The Promise—The King of Balkan Brass (Piranha Musik) presents original music by Boban accompanied by his son Marko, a 18-year old trumpet-blowing prodigy. Born in a leap year, the only son of this Balkan trumpet champion came of age on February 29, 2006, a “no-day” this year, and an outstanding day also, because Boban Markovic officially handed over the Orkestar to his son and successor on his birthday. Leading their orkestar from Vladicin Han in Serbia’s deep south, the elder Markovic’s music reflects the many sources that have shaped the Balkans and the Gypsies’ journey. Here the ancient meets the post-modern, blending everything to create an eerie, intuitive music. This third CD is Boban Markovic’s first all-studio production.

Going into its 46th year, the Guèa festival is by far the largest of its kind, bringing over 300,000 people from all over the world to the tiny Central Serbian town. The extreme level of partying and revelry that accompanies the festival compliments the scene of fifty or so bands performing and competing over three loud and drink-filled days. The voluminous intensity of the music performed at Guèa prompted Miles Davis’ surprised reaction. But for Markovic, who has already won several top awards, the festival’s competitive nature no longer serves his interests.

“I’m past this,” Boban told the New York Times. “I write most of the songs that other bands play. I’ve won the contest many, many times. The problem is that the jury still wants me to play like I did 15 years ago. But I want to be more innovative and play more modern stuff. So I’m not going to compete this year.”

But, he ended up competing and won top honors at the festival anyway.

Markovic’s attitude concerning the development of brass band music is consistent with the history of the style. Rooted in early transpositions of popular folk tunes, Gypsy brass band music began with the introduction of the trumpet to Serbia in 1804, during the Karageorge uprising. Used as a tool for communication amongst Turkish soldiers, the trumpet was eventually picked up by Gypsies, who incorporated their own intricate rhythmic sensibilities into the style, bringing the music closer to the ecstatic, danceable form that is heard today.

Gypsy brass band music is characterized by rapturous arrangements stuffed with beautiful, yet rocking, melodies against an often-pounding low-end harmonic backdrop, which, in spite of all the dizzying intensity, remains as Frank London (who heads up his own brass band, also on the Piranha label) describes it, “the unmistakable essence of funk.”

Now, with even more emphasis on creative flow between Balkan nations, groups like the Boban Markovic Orkestar are working to push the music further. Through collaborations with the likes of Frank London and others, elements of New Orleans, klezmer, and jazz are infused into Markoviæ’s work, helping to transplant the raucous atmosphere of Guèa into your living room. Or as Bob Young of the Somerville Journal once wrote, “Imagine wild brass playing that would make a New Orleans marching band stop and stare, and throw in percussion so thunderous it shakes a hall, and then you have got an idea of why the Orkestar gets a crowd into a frenzy.”