Koman has one of those voices which definitely sounds lived in. It scrapes over his vocal chords like a rasp, but instead of sounding harsh and abusive to the ear, it catches our attention and holds us riveted. Not only does his voice have character, he also has masterful control over inflection. It's amazing what he is able to suggest by the slightest change in intonation or emphasis. Drawing upon his training as an actor, he creates characters appropriate for the songs. Thieves come in all shapes and sizes and Koman doesn't just sing about one, he sings for many of them. Watch him in the video below as he struts across the stage like a bantam rooster, and know the pride and cockiness of a thief who has just scored. Yet on other songs he is equally convincing when dealing with other, less boastful, subjects.
Of course there is something about the music that lends itself to sounding boastful. Maybe it's the heavy syncopation of the beat or the way the melody swirls, but listening to it you can easily visualize two thieves trying to top each other with their outrageous stories. Anybody who has heard what most of us would refer to as Cossack music, the stuff which inspires dancers to perform incredibly high kicks from squatting positions, will know something of what I'm trying to describe. Imagine a mix of Jewish klezmar, Romany violin, and Dixieland jazz performed to what sounds like a cross between a tango and a slow polka beat and you'll have a good idea of what they sound like.
While that may sound incredibly complicated, in the hands of the musicians in VulgarGrad it sounds like second nature. Aside from Koman on vocals, the band consists of Andrew Tanner (contrabass balalika), Renato VaCirca (drums), Ros Jones (trombone), Adam Pierzchalski (trumpet), Nara Demasson (guitar) and Phil McLeod (piano and accordion). According to their web site, they've been together since late 2004 and are a sort of on-again, off-again arrangement, depending on member's availability and schedules. With Koman working in both Poland and Australia the band's rehearsal and performance schedule is obviously limited. However, listening to their most recent effort, the single "Limonchiki," this doesn't seem to have affected their quality. They still play with a type of reckless abandonment which can only be successfully carried off by the tightest of bands.
Of course, one can hear traditional Eastern European style folk music fairly easily these days. From Ukrainian folk dance troupes to any number of excellent Romany or klezmar bands, there are plenty of examples of this type of music being performed by groups based in North America. So why should you make the effort to check out some obscure band from Australia? One good reason is they're not slaves to tradition. Sure their music is steeped in the spirit of the thieves' songs and the folk traditions they sprung from, but at the same time they add elements of jazz and pop music which give the songs an extra punch.