Max Pashm - Never Mind the Balkans [Proper, 2008]

The Max Pashm Band grabbed my attention with the release of their new album, Never Mind The Balkans Here’s Max Pashm. The band immediately hits you with their engaging style and British sense of humor. This band is F-U-N! The band’s MySpace page lists their musical style as KlezmerBalkanGreekGypsyPunk with Electro-beats. That’s quite a mouthful, but that’s what they are. When you listen you can hear all these elements weave their magic.

Klezmer fans will recognize band members Merlin Shepherd on Clarinet and Polina Shepherd on Piano and Vocals. But also take note of the outstanding Bouzouki of George Kypreos and Vocals by Eugenia Georgieva, plus guest appearances from the bands Fanfara and Baghdaddies. The Max Pashm sound is a unique blend of traditional Greek/Balkan/Gypsy & Klezmer music, fused with high energy electronic beats & digitally manipulated fx.

The opening track, Imnul (Kish Mayn Tokhes) shows what Max Pashm is all about. The first thing we hear is a scratchy old radio broadcast saying “This is Radio Pashm calling.” Reminiscent of the famous “This is London calling” from WW II, we then hear the old radio tuning through the stations when suddenly the wind begins to blow and we hear the call of the solo Trumpet with Bouzouki. Then we hear the Brass, Electronica, and Yiddish Vocals. This is a true blending of styles, and gets us in the right frame of mind for all that follows. Fanfara appears again on Manea-K, where the Balkan theme is prominent in the Brass, but also sounds authentic on Bouzouki and Clarinet in their own styles.

Fight On The Streets continues with an opening radio quote from Churchill that puts us in the fighting mood. The heavy beats behind the Greek/Klezmer theme make for an interesting blend. Unlikely as it seems, this is one of the best tracks on the album. The band does an excellent job with songs of this sort, blurring the line between the musical cultures.

Max does an amazing job on the (primarily) Greek tunes as well, bringing in some top notch Greek musicians to ensure authenticity, to which he adds just the right amount of Electronics and Beats. Using Bouzouki, Baglama, Tsoura, and Cretan Lyra, the tracks Rembeteli, Klezmernaki (with guest band Baghdaddies), Once Upon A Time In Hellas bring Greek music to the forefront of the World Music scene, with high energy and interesting DJ effects. Also of note is the Clarinet solo by Pavlos Papadakis and Greek Vocal on Rembeteli. The a cappella Bulgarian Vocal on I Neno is ethereal and serves as a nice break in the action.

Klezmer gets its own special treatment by Max. Anarchy has a Yiddish Vocal, mixed with English Rap and Electronica, but nimbly blending a traditional song along the way. If I have to single out a favorite track on the album, this would be the one, as it has all the elements I look for in a great, hip Klezmer song.

The Calling gives a nice instrumental solo break with a beautiful Cretan Lyra solo, reminiscent of a Klezmer Violin of Eastern Europe.

Max changes gears on The Tongue (Lick a Little). Once again the song starts with a scratchy old 78 record sound with Clarinet and Bouzouki, then morphs into the contemporary Pashm sound with the Club beats and English Rap mixed with a traditional Jewish Nign. Then the song switches to a Greek version of the theme before returning to the Klezmer version again. It is quite fascinating to me how the Klezmer and Greek styles can be switched so easily and also blended together to create a more unique style. It’s difficult to describe, but is thoroughly enjoyable.

Angels is another example of Pashm blurring styles. Using Bulgarian Vocal, English Rap, Vocorder effects, a blend of Electronic Beats, and a snippet from U.S. President Bush, the song is high energy, fun to listen to, and shows what the band is really capable of.

Maximus Taximus is a fitting conclusion to the album. A trance-like drone with Bouzouki solo and ethereal Vocal hearken back to the Greek tradition once more before fading away with the voice of Radio Pashm in our ears one last time.

The mix on this album is remarkable. Without attention to detail an album like this can get lost with all the electronic effects. But great care was obviously taken to get the balance just right. The electronics never overpower the instruments, though the power of the low- end bass effects can certainly be felt when played back at the proper volume. Vocals are weaved through the mix: at various times up front, blended more into the fabric of the instruments, or nearly a whisper to give that ethereal feeling. A great job by (wait for it…) Max Pashm, who not only leads the group, but arranged, mixed, and produced the album; plus excellent Mastering by Ray Staff and Martin Giles.

The CD package is a simple foldout affair with no booklet insert, only the list of songs, band members, and credits. The brightly colored graphics (which, by the way, match the graphics on the websites) really jump out and scream for attention.

I found the Max Pashm Band last year and had been anticipating the release of this album for quite some time. It has exceeded my expectations, and I can give it a very enthusiastic recommendation. If your musical taste hovers around contemporary World Music/Klezmer/Greek/Balkan Brass, there will be something here for you. Radio Pashm is calling. Answer the call, already!

Keith Wolzinger

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Max Pashm - Never Mind The Balkans