Djinn’s a tonic
Slow Djinn Fez
Calling for audience participation is always a gamble.
At a recent show at Comma Coffee in Carson City, Carl Hylin, bouzouki player in Slow Djinn Fez, asked the audience to clap along with one tune, demonstrating the tricky (7/8 time?) rhythm before the band started the number. The audience locked in with the band in short bursts. Unison clapping of the quick, stutter-step dance rhythm alternated with a noise that evoked the image of a busboy tumbling down a flight of stairs.
Amazingly, this arrhythmic accompaniment didn’t noticeably affect the band’s performance.
I’m sure those of us in the audience would have done better if the rhythm weren’t so, well … foreign.
“We do Middle Eastern folk fusion,” Hylin says of the group’s mission.
The instrumentation itself gives an idea of the group’s exoticism.
Hylin’s bouzouki is basically a Greek mandolin. Bennet Kottler’s instrument is the nine-string oud, which is a fretless Middle-Eastern lute. Percussionist Pete Fairley favors the Indian tabla and North African dumbek drums. These instruments are combined with the more prosaic Western instruments: violin (Liz Glattly), clarinet (Pete Fairley), bass guitar (Dennis Fecko) and occasionally guitar (also played by Kottler).
As for material, the instrumental group plays Turkish, Israeli, Egyptian and Persian folk melodies, as well as one composition by John Zorn’s free-jazz-klezmer quartet Masada.
The band hasn’t performed original music, yet.
“We’re branching out into that now,” says Kottler.
The band takes “an old ethnic tradition, combining it with modern styles: a little bit of funk, some electronica perhaps … India tabla, jazz elements,” says Hylin.
But is there any reason why these different styles of music should be fused?
“It’s all good music, and it works together,” says Hylin.
It’s surprising how well it works, and though that is the best possible justification for Slow Djinn Fez’s musical mutation, there are commonalities between the seemingly disparate genres from which Slow Djinn Fez borrows. Most obviously, these styles are all rooted in dance music.
This helps explain why, in performances, the band is usually joined by a belly-dancer. Hylin and Kottler are in the process of composing original music for a joint project between Asha Belly Dancers and Wing and a Prayer Dance Company.
The backgrounds of the musicians that make up Slow Djinn Fez are nearly as eclectic as the music itself. Grace played jazz and other Western styles of music. Glattly (who also plays in the duo Earthquake) is a primarily a classical violinist. Fecko will soon leave the band to devote more time to playing flemenco guitar. For Kottler, Slow Djinn Fez’s pan-Middle Eastern style was a reasonable substitute for the style he intended to play.
“I wanted to play klezmer music,” he says.
Hylin has played Irish folk music and was formerly a member of the Sierra Nevada Balalaika Society.
“I always liked the Eastern European Gypsy tunes [in the Balalaika Society] the best. That’s actually close-sounding to the kind of things we do in this band,” says Hylin.
“I like to explore these other forms and share them with people as much as possible,” says Fairley.
A noble aim. But next time, can we clap along to something with a back beat?