[live review] a hawk and a hacksaw, the family elan @ cafe oto

August 5, 2010

Concert date: August 3, 2010

A Hawk And A Hacksaw performing at Cafe Oto, August 3rd 2010

Jeremy Barnes (pictured above, right) – former Neutral Milk Hotel drummer, self-taught accordionist and one half of A Hawk And A Hacksaw‘s (AHAAH) core membership – began Tuesday’s gig at Cafe Oto by thanking the assembled “jazz” crowd for welcoming the group and their brand of “peasant music”. I’m curious as to whether he extended this courtesy to the audience of AHAAH’s performance the previous evening, and what the reaction was: they were supporting Simple Minds at the Soundlabs Festival in Italy. Go figure.

For the uninitiated, AHAAH are an Albuquerque, New Mexico-originated band who compose and play music from and inspired by eastern Europe and the Balkans – Romania, Turkey, Bulgaria, Hungary and the like. Centred around duo Barnes and violinist Heather Trost, but augmented by a changing roster of musicians from a variety of countries (including the Hun Hangár Ensemble), AHAAH appear to neither add to nor subtract from the unmediated sensory and emotional pleasure (and pathos) music from that region weaves.

With Barnes providing the harmonic, rhythmic and textural foundation of the set (along with a percussionist whose name alas I didn’t catch), Trost delivered the beautiful, poignant and lyrical melody lines (alternating with the trumpeter whose name I also missed. Shame on me). Particularly intriguing was her use of a Stroh violin, with which she created a scratchy, cracked timbre by slowly pulling loose strings away from the body of the instrument (picture here).

The sweltering temperature intensified the mesmeric energy the band sustained throughout its set, which showcased work from their most recent release, 2009’s Délivrance.  And the audience forgot all about jazz, not that it was in their minds to begin with.

The Family Elan performing at Cafe Oto, August 3rd 2010

Supporting were The Family Elan, a folk collective founded by Bradford-born bouzouki player Chris Hladowski (above left, who also played with AHAAH for much of their set) that shares AHAAH’s love of Balkan music. Appearing here as a trio – with Patrick Farmer on guitar/percussion (centre) and Ania Hladowska on vocals and various other instruments – their blend of middle-eastern and English folk was enchanting.

Hladowska’s serene calm – a perfect counterbalance to Hladowski and Farmer’s charming, almost boyish, enthusiasm – was deployed to particularly potent effect in a solo, unamplified vocal piece that demonstrated once again the simple power of music that, despite travelling miles and generations, remains untainted, pure.

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