Lawson Mechanics Institute, November 4
They look like so many clowns who have run away from the circus: refugees from making people laugh who have turned, instead, to music and the fine art of brewing jubilation. Among the plethora of bands playing Balkan and Gypsy music in Australia these days one rarely encounters high-level musicianship so completely intertwined with sheer gusto as is the case with the Balkanics who, somewhat improbably, hail from the Sunshine Coast.
About 40 years ago Linsey Pollak was in on the ground floor of extending the appeal and reach of Balkan music beyond Australia’s ex-pat communities. Over the intervening years his career has been as eclectic as the instruments he plays, several of which are of his own devising. The Balkanics marks his return to an ensemble dedicated to Balkan music.
The band has a particular penchant for the music of Macedonia, the wonder being the degree to which they generate something of the primal force of a Balkan brass band with just five players. Part of the credit for that resides with Pollak, himself, who, primarily playing soprano saxophone, electrified the music with every entrance he made, such was his playing’s innate vibrancy.
But he has also surrounded himself with colleagues who broadly match his exuberance, leaving no sense of an idiom being painstakingly recreated so much of as them making this music their own, notably by emphasising the potential for jazzier and funkier iterations. Adding sonic colour to the visuals the five members played a dozen instruments between them (no doubt with many more in reserve). Pollak’s long-time collaborator Tunji Beier concentrated on drum-kit, Ric Halstead on tenor saxophone, Anthony Pizzica on a self-made resonator bouzouki he calls a rezouki, and Philip Griffin on bass (his lines helping define the band’s singular approach).
The evening was opened by Raduga Trio, whose set was immeasurably enhanced when they were joined by guest singer Zlatko Jevtic, a distinguished-looking gentleman blessed with a baritone voice that could warm a graveyard.