The core members of Balkan Beat Box, reedist Ori Kaplan and drummer Tamir Muskat, are regulars on the polyglot New York underground scene that’s best known for spawning Gogol Bordello. In fact Kaplan used to play sax with those self-styled Gypsy punks, and Muskat worked with lunatic Gogol front man Eugene Hutz a couple years back on a frantic dance-floor travelogue appropriately entitled Gogol Bordello vs. Tamir Muskat. But you’ll hear little of Gogol Bordello’s lascivious late-night hedonism in the detailed, organic-sounding jams on BBB’s debut, Balkan Beat Box (JDub). Underneath the insinuating guitar and bass, attitudinal female vocals, pan-global sound effects, and bumping, folk-inflected beats, there’s something simpler though no less joyous: the sound of musicians taking pleasure in the give-and-take of performance. That kind of exchange is one reason music has always seemed to hint that cultural borders are more porous than we usually imagine, and the music here (especially Kaplan’s woodwinds and Dana Leong’s trombone and trumpet) plays up the similarities between the sounds of North Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. One might suggest that the folks in Balkan Beat Box are trying to forge a world-spanning cosmopolitan sensibility as a hopeful alternative to mere nationality. Then again, that might just be a fancy way of saying they’re New Yorkers. Fri 3/17, 10 PM, House of Blues Back Porch Stage, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, $12.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Seth Kushner.