Balkan dance music just a part of cocek! Brass Band, at AS220 Friday
By SUSAN MCDONALD | November 09, 2014
Sometimes names can be deceiving. When it comes to the Boston-based brass band Cocek! (pronounced cho-check), named for a traditional type of Balkan dance music, there’s way, way more to it.
Weeks after releasing their first album, “Here Comes Schlomo,” the five core members of Cocek! are reveling in the positive critical reception to their brass blend, which draws in subtle hints of reggae, classical melodies, Dixieland, orchestral work, New Orleans brass jazz, Klezmer music, and a fleeting influence of the great Louis Armstrong. All of which evolved out of the fascination founder Sam Dechenne developed with the Romanian gypsy band Fanfare Ciocãrlia when he was a junior high school trumpet player.
“We’re heavily influenced by the Balkan brass sound, which I stumbled upon when I was younger,” says Dechenne, who grew up in Oregon and is half Irish, half French and not a drop Eastern European. “It’s just really good music with a special kind of beat that speaks to me.
“We’re not traditional, but we’re doing our own original music and see what happens. It just happens to be influenced by that kind of music.”
It’s not that he’s musically driven to be contrary to the traditional sound of cocek, but Dechenne — backed by another trumpet, along with trombone, tuba and bass drum — just finds the band’s sound veers off course whenever they play. And he’s OK with that.
“I believe that as long as my voice is honest, the sound doesn’t really matter to me,” he says in a call from his home base near Boston. “As long as we’re being honest with the music, vision and voice, it’s good. My favorite musicians are the ones you can tell have something to say and they are real honest. I don’t like when it sounds too forced.”
To get to that honesty, Dechenne says he wades through a lot of debris.
“I throw away 90 percent of what comes out of my pen or my trumpet. I like to sit behind the drum set, play a little and splice things together,” he says. “Individual voices are also present in each of our songs and their inflections can influence the sound. The guys are comfortable enough to stretch my tunes without changing the songs.”
The size of Cocek! is smaller than most Balkan ensembles, but Dechenne says that he’s learned from other bands he’s in (roots reggae band John Brown’s Body and Klezwoods) that it’s hard to gather large groups to tour or record.
“This way, I can find voices that musicians don’t usually take on,” he says of the smaller group. “We’ll use the trumpets for harmonies while someone else takes on the melody, for instance, and the drums have a much larger role than usual. It means we’re constantly playing — there’s no laying on. By the end of a set, we’re hurting.”
People seem to love the dance sound when Cocek! has played clubs over the year they’ve been in existence. The music, Dechenne stresses, is also fitting for a concert hall and a seated audience.
“It’s a rare style of music — people can go crazy dancing to it or they can sit and enjoy the interesting improvisation, virtuosic rhythms and other challenging stuff we throw in,” he says. “Plus, we dress pretty fly in our suits!”
Already working on the group’s second album, Dechenne has plans to marry Cocek’s sound with electronic musicians at an upcoming show in Boston. Each of six electronic musicians will remix one of Cocek’s songs to create nightclub dance-style music.
“It’s a collaboration — we’ll play the beat and they’ll kind of scratch over us. It’s an attempt to fuse live music with the DJ scene,” he says of the show that will include the sound of a saxophone quartet and a small woodwind ensemble that lends a contemporary classical vibe.
Cocek! Brass Band will appear with Milkbread and Trunk at AS220, 115 Empire St., Providence, on Friday, Nov. 14, at 9 p.m. For details, go to as220.org.
Susan McDonald is a regular contributor to The Providence Journal. She can be reached at Sewsoo1@verizon.net.
Latest News | Novembber 09, 2014
Cocek! Brass Band blends the influences of reggae, classical melodies, Dixieland, orchestral work, New Orleans brass jazz, Klezmer music and a fleeting influence of Louis Armstrong.