Fanfare Ciocarlia, Romania’s premiere Romany brass band, are set to release their latest album on the Asphalt Tango label. Onwards to Mars is due to hit North America April 15, 2016. It’s not only another example of the band’s musical prowess, it also continues to show off their continued evolution musically.
Fanfare first became known to North American audiences through their amazing rendition of Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild”, included in the soundtrack of the movie Borat. Their exuberant and flamboyant style of play, combined with each member’s virtuosity, has garnered them praise everywhere. What is most impressive about the band is how they break any and all stereotypes people might have about brass music.
While they can wail away with the best of them and blow the roof off a concert hall, as this new release proves, they also can play with incredible subtlety and finesse. On this album they’ve decided to continue the exploration of different musical styles they began with their previous release, The Devil’s Tale. While that disc was something of a tribute to the jazzier side of Romany music, this one hearkens back more to the music they would play at festivals and weddings for a non-Romany audience.
So we hear horas and another traditional Romanian music, but with, as the band’s former leader, the late Ioan Ivancea, said “our very special gypsy touch, i.e. more warmth, more colour, and more shine”. With seven of the disc’s 14 tracks composed by labelmate Koby Israelite specifically to reflect this type of music, we hear a new side to the band.
There is still the breathless pace, like watching a horse gallop across a field and the incredible energy we’ve come to expect from the band. However, there are also nuances and intricacies to the music we’ve not heard before. They are also experimenting with some different types of music – the second song on the CD, “Mista Lobaloba”, sounds like a collision between there usual sound and the horn section of a Mariachi band.
Then there’s what I consider the most memorable track – their cover of Screaming Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” with guest vocalist Iulian Canaf. Without a single guitar anywhere to be heard they’ve turned this into a down and dirty blues tune which wouldn’t be out of place in any juke joint. It doesn’t hurt that Canaf’s vocals could sear the paint off the side of a house. This is a showstopper.
If you’ve never heard Fanfare Ciocarlia, you don’t know what you’ve been missing. Hailing from Zece Pra˘ jini (meaning 10 fields), a small village in rural Romania their families have lived in since feudal times, they continue to redefine brass band music. They’re touring the U.S. for the rest of April and you can find specific dates and locations at Asphalt Tangos’ tour page. If they show up in your neighbourhood, get yourself to the venue. Hearing them on record is one thing – seeing them in person is like travelling to another planet.