Goran Bregovich

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The Weddings and Funerals Orchestra. Photo: Prudence Upton.

Concert Hall, March 8, 2013

 I’ve witnessed it before, but not often. The great bluesman Muddy Waters had it, as did the magical jazz trumpeter Lester Bowie. Serbia’s Goran Bregovic had it in 2008, and now it was brimming off the stage again: a heady mix of earthiness, charisma, rampant fun and high art.

 We were tossed between emotional and entertainment extremes, constantly, and at high velocity. One moment a male choir was making music of such profound sadness and beauty that I had to remind myself to breathe, and the next we were catapulted into the proto-punk, knockabout world of Balkan Gypsy music.

 Every piece was penned by Bregovic, who sang, played guitar and airily conducted his 19-piece Weddings and Funerals Orchestra, all the while smiling blithely at what was unfolding around him.

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Goran Bregovic. Photo: Prudence Upton.

 His compositions’ quality and breadth continue to astound. The choir’s force and solemnity on St Batholomew’s Night made one’s skin creep, particularly the lava-flow basses of Dusan Ljubinkovic and Sinisa Dutina. There was diaphanous music from the string quartet and two Bulgarian female singers, and thumping, swaggering grooves from the brass band.

 Each time these grooves erupted, with Muharem Redzepi pounding his bass drum and letting fly his wild, microtonal singing, you felt a charge rush through the room. A madness filled the air as the brass players’ differing vibratos clashed, making the horns very slightly out of tune with each other – which is why the music is so raucous, raw and visceral.

 Stojan Dimov played leaping clarinet and saxophone solos, and here and there Bregovic featured his own guitar or voice, including singing the lilting In The Death Car. He never pushed himself as the star, however, rather being the naturally charismatic centre of this strange, ecstatic, magical music that can change lives, at least for a night.

 The blemish was overuse of percussion loops. Surely another player would be a better solution. Although not quite matching 2008, this was still among the best concerts I’ve heard.