LIVE: DakhaBrakha @ the Music Haven, 8/7/16

Dakha Brakha @ Music Haven
DakhaBrakha @ the Music Haven

Review by Greg Haymes
Photograph by Stanley Johnson

Who knew that the music of the Ukraine could be so cool, so hip, so utterly mesmerizing?

Yes, as the folks in Monty Python used to say, “And now for something completely different…”

Mona Golub has been at the helm of the free Music Haven concert series for 27 summers now, and from the start the motto has been “traveling the world once concert at a time.” And last Sunday’s trip took us to Eastern Europe for a dazzling, thoroughly intoxicating performance by DakhaBrakha, a quartet of inventive and entertaining musicians from Kiev who describe their music as “ethno-chaos.”

But there was nothing chaotic at all about their 75-minute performance in Schenectady’s Central Park. Blending traditional folk tunes of the Ukraine with a wide variety of contemporary musical genres, the foursome – one man and three women sporting traditional costumes from their homeland, including tall hats that made them look like Marge Simpson’s sisters – utilized imaginative arrangements to coax the most from what might at first appear to be a limited musical palette of cello, accordion, concertina and a variety of drums and percussive instruments. Each of the four took over lead vocal chores throughout the evening, but it was when they sang together in keening, sharp-edged harmony that the band made its boldest statements.

At times, the music sounded like some strange mash-up of Steve Reich and Gogol Bordello. At other times, it sounded like Bjork-goes-to-Morocco. Sometimes Nina Garenetska’s cello playing took on a decidedly Indian classical influence. Sometimes drummer-accordionist Marko Galanevych sang in a captivating James Blake-like falsetto.

“Torokh” was a smoldering Peggy Lee-like jazz ballad, while “Divka-Marusechka” broke into an a cappella section sung by Garenetska, drummer Olena Tsybulska and drummer/concertina player Iryna Kovalenko that sounded for all the world like a Soviet cousin to the classic Christmas song, “The Carol of the Bells.”

But perhaps the most surprising performance of the evening was a tune that Garenetska explained was about a woman “who is trying to find a good husband – it’s a very long story,” as the band launched into a serious groove anchoring a spot-on slice of Carpathian Mountains hip-hop.

The NYC-based trio Tavche Gravche – featuring clarinetist Vasko Dukovski, guitarist Dan Nadel and acoustic bassist Daniel Ori – opened the night with a 40-minute set of Gypsy swing, Balkan folk and klezmer that stretched from the traditional Macedonian folk song “Turli Tava” to the more adventurous contemporary jazz original “In My Mind” by Ori. The sensuous, snaking melodies – especially “More Than a Fisherman” and the slow-building “Chanting” – were front and center, led by Dukovski’s high-flying clarinet.

This review was originally published in The Times Union.

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