Denis Chang

Goran Bregovic and The Balkan Sound

It’s been a long time since my last post and that’s because I’ve been very busy — 3 gigs this past week, but that’s how life is. I’ll get there just like we all do… eventually. Oh and I can’t stop watching this video! Goran Bregovic and his Weddings and Funerals Orchestra featuring GB on guitar, vocals, percussion and direction, Ogi Radivojevi on percussion, vocals and accordion and sister singers Ludmilla and Daniela Radkova. Of course, the band is powered by a totally slamming Balkan-style horn section! This band sounds like how many styles of music (Middle-Eastern, Gypsy, Punk-Rock, Klezmer, Balkan Folk) all at once at it totally works as a festive and dramatic conglomeratic presentation.

I love this stuff and how could you not? Goran Bregovic, who hails from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (formerly Yugoslavia) was originally a guitarist in the very popular and influential rock band, Bijelo dugme (White button). They had a run of successful studio and live albums, videos and were kind of like the Balkan Bon Jovi or maybe the Jugoslavian Queen. I definitely hear Brian May/Freddie Mercury influences at work in some of their stuff. The band was huge in Europe and went through a bunch of different phases before breaking up in the late 80s, but have reformed a few times since then, including the following concert from Kosevo where Goran plays some tasty rock guitar solos. (A whole bunch of the band’s vids are on Youtube and they did some really cool stuff, lemme tell ya. Everyday I keep finding a new one that really has it going on!

Even before Bijelo dugme quit in the late-80s, Bregovic began scoring films, including the first in a series of what was to become a very popular and productive partnership with Emir Kusturica (who is also a guitar player). The two collaborated on Time of the Gypsies, Arizona Dream (which featured Bregovic in a musical collaboration with Iggy Pop on the song In the Deathcar) and the award-winning and very controversial Underground. This is how I got to know the music as I’m a huge fan of Kusturica’s work and the soundtracks to the films have always been awesome. There is a lot of “Gypsy” in the music and that always works for me! You can hear this sound in many other artists from the Balkans and also some US performers like Gogol Bordello and Slavic Soul Party. Traces of it appear in Django Reinhardt, and current Gypsy Jazz players like Stephane Wrembel. The Balkans sit at the crossroads of so many cultures and religions, the result is always an interesting combination and amalgamation of sounds and rhythms.

The same can be said for Emir Kusturica’s movies and his musical collaborations with the No Smoking Orchestra. Here is a very popular song from that band called Pitbull Terrier. If you’re a fan of the whole “Borat” series, there a lot of similarities in the film and music. Totally offbeat and over-the-top.

The above clip features shots from the movie Crna mačka, beli mačor or Black Cat White Cat, which is on Youtube in it’s entirety. This is one of the coolest films I’ve ever seen, chock full of outrageous characters, lo-budget slapstick and traditional-style, old-world story-telling. Srđan Todorović (the guy juggling grenades and singing Pitbull Terrier) gives a completely outlandish performance as the bad guy, but the whole cast is really stellar. While Goran Bregovic was not directly involved in this film, the music is in a similar vein and just as exciting.

If all of this stuff is too traditional and slow and you’re looking for some more SHRED in your life, check out this guy below, Serbian guitar monster Borislav Mitic. Pretty rad, wouldn’t you say? A guy I wrote about last year, Denis Chang, has really expanded his instructional academy and he has just finished filming almost 15 hours(!!) worth of stuff with Borislav. It’s not ready for purchase yet, but the school is HERE. I saw a Facebook preview some of the material that was filmed and Borsilav passes along some really cool info and performs some great demonstrations. So look for that in the future!

So whether you’re a musician or just a person looking for some new entertainment and soul-sustaining art, don’t overlook all of the very fine work produced by Balkan artists because they know how to bring it! They have certainly been working me lately. Also, thanks for your continued interest and viewing. I’ll be back to a regular posting schedule soon!

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The World is Waiting for the Sunrise

The fiery Joscho Stephan and Friends, including Evan Price on the violin, Martin Sjöstedt on bass, and Denis Chang on rhythm guitar. Joscho Stephan is still in his early 20s and is definitely already well on his way to being a really great player. He has the confidence, speed, power, sophistication, and relaxed joy of someone much more seasoned. I really like how he gets his whole body behind his playing and is jumping out of his chair. I think that stuff is great and he really gets the audience behind him because of that and the fact that he takes a lot of chances. He’s not afraid of making a mistake or not quite pulling off the very fast stuff he’s trying to do. Sometimes it’s good to have that kind of brash, go-for-it attitude. Joscho, like many of the younger GJ players, doesn’t use the traditional Gypsy picking style, though he is still using a whole lot o’ down-strokes. The more I find out about this music the more I realize everybody has their own peculiarities when it comes to how they pick. Joscho’s technique is definitely working for him!

Denis Chang Fleche D'orDenis Chang has done a whole heck of a lot to bring Gypsy Jazz to the masses and has released a couple of really great discs on his own. I have the his Nature Boy disc and it’s one of my favorites. There are plenty of songs chock full of  chops and musicality, not only from Denis himself, but also from fellow Gypsy virtuoso, Ritary Gaguenetti, and special guest Frank Gambale! There are a couple of very nice and atmospheric vocal songs: Stardust, the title track Nature Boy, and Seul Ce Soir and an all around banging track selection and roster of great musicians making the whole thing really shine. I played this on a road trip early last fall and it was beautiful to listen to it driving down highway with all of autumn’s colors in full display. I have to get around to picking up some more of Denis’s stuff because he knows how to make a disc!.

In the style of Stochelo Rosenberg DVDBesides that he has also been a major educator, which has been a big help to people like me. When I first started trying to play GJ and had no idea what I was doing I was helped out most by Denis’ charts and tabs and the Djangobooks.com website, where he was and is a frequent commentator. He has also made a quite a few DVDs and has done some instructional stuff with guitar powerhouses Wawau Adler and Stochelo Rosenberg. I have the two Stochelo discs and they are well-produced and just full of information and a whole lot of playing by Denis and Stochelo that you can just watch and enjoy. There is a In the Style of Stochelo disc and another disc devoted entirely to waltzes. They’re both great! I’ve wanted to get the Wawau discs too, but you know the economy (!). I’m sure they are just as good because Wawau is a heavy player too.

Django Reinhardt in Rome box setAnyhoo, So…The World is Waiting for the Sunrise. Django Reinhardt did this song with Stephane Grappelli and a pick-up band in Italy after WW II. It is available on the Django in Rome box set, which I have and enjoy very much. You can listen to it here. I could’ve easily included this on my FAVORITE MOMENTS list in the Django post, but then I could say that about at least a hundred other songs he did. Notice how hard Django picks without ever losing his articulation and speed. He totally dominates on this track and his rhythm comping at the end is indicative of how rhythmically sound he was. There are some real gems in the Django catalog that showcase his rhythm work and this is one of my favorites. His duos with Stephane, Out of Nowhere being a prime example, are really amazing and great for analyzing how to back someone up effectively and give the music a very infectious and sophisticated pulse.

The World is Waiting for the Sunrise is a very old song (1919) and was covered by many people during the swing era, including Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington. In 1951 Les Paul and Mary Ford recorded a version with all of Les’s guitar and recording effects, which were new at the time. It was a big hit and sold over a million copies.Everybody knows I’m sure how important Les Paul’s contributions were to not only the further development of music, but also the technology behind making the music. He invented the Les Paul! He was also a total pioneer in the art of recording and using effects to improve and expand the sound of the recordings. As I show in my big sticky on Django Reinhardt, he and Les Paul were friends. Can you imagine hanging out with those two guys for a couple of hours?!!

quote from Les Paul

Les Paul influenced many people, two of whom you might recognize in the next video. Carl Perkins shows how rockabilly cats “faked” the Les Paul echo to get the same effect on the same song. George Harrison is no stranger to this song either as The Beatles recorded a home-made version sometime in late 50s.

So this is an interesting study of a song that is now almost 100 years old — starting with a recent performance and going back to the middle of the last century’s jazz players and rock n’ roll players and how all of the interpretations differed, but are also very similar in many ways. We can also see how technological advances have allowed guitar players to push the boundaries of the art as far as possible. Standards such as The World is Waiting… have a very user-friendly structure to them—you can make them as simple or complex as you wish, whether harmonically, rhythmically, or sonically— or some kind of combination of all three. Making these connections across styles is not only interesting in and of itself, but it also helps make the song more universal and accessible to anyone not familiar with a particular style. Oh…and Willie Nelson likes it too! Gypsy Jazz and Western Swing are real close cousins.

When I started trying to play jazz, which can be a very overwhelming thing to do it helped to hear artists I had heard many times (The Beatles) do a song like “Sunrise” or The Sheik of Araby. Players who are adept at jazz are, of course all over it and playing stuff that hits a novice like “huh what?” The Beatles did “Sheik” and Carl Perkins played “Sunrise” like they played everything else and since that format and approach was more familiar to me, it was a big help to listen to their versions to get the structure and approach in my brain and under my fingers. Once I was playing and listening to more jazz and Gypsy Jazz music, all of those structures became familiar to me and I could hear them as easily and they were as recognizable and the rock motifs, moves, chord patterns and tricks I grew up on. Popular groups from the rock era have also turned many a person, musician and non-musician alike, onto the people who influenced them and that is a great way to find your way back to the source of what made the music and music technology happen and how that continues to influence and color the music that we hear today.