Janko Heidl – 27th March 2015
If you are looking for easy listening jazz, you should choose another band to listen to. But if you are into thrill, excitement and suspense, then ethno-jazz-blues quartet damjans is what you are looking for.
The album Gerbaz GIIPUJA by the author, arranger and the band leader Damjan Grbac, a double bass player from Rijeka, is a step forward in comparison to their debut album “Giipuja” (Aquarius Records, 2013). On their first album, the band mostly played jazz covers of traditional music songs from the Istria and Kvarner region. On their new album there are ten original jazz compositions inspired by traditional folk music of Istria and Primorje. This authentic folk music is played in/by specific Istrian scale, which consists of only six tones. It doesn’t have defined harmonies, chords or specific rhythm measurement or specified tempo. Actually, it is so specific that even today it is not theoretically well explained and defined. UNESCO has protected this scale as world’s non-material cultural heritage.
Dissimilar to anything you’ve heard before, when first acquainted with this type of music, a lot of people find it hard to listen to and it makes them uneasy; many of them will never find it enjoyable. The very sound of typical instruments – sopela (Istrian long flute) and mih (bagpipes) – sounds out of tune and is rather piercing. It’s demanding to listen to music played in this style, be it in original folk form, be it in acoustic jazz interpretation by damjans quartet. Damjan Grbac and Tonči Grabušić on drums are permanent quartet members, while saxophone player Andreas Marinello and Marko First who plays sopela, twin houses, ocarina and a violin replaced Klaus Gesing and Dario Marušić, band members that contributed on the first album.
The mysterious word in the album title giipuja is actually an acronym that stands for “music of Istria and Primorje in jazz arrangements”.
Majority of ethno musicians have the tendency to adjust traditional inspiration to the taste of wider audience. Damjans on the other hand, are rather ruthless and radical in their fusion of jazz and folk music. Grbac has stated that a lot of compromise is necessary to make this kind of fusion work; their compromises aren’t leaning towards radio phonics.
The album is recorded live in G.I.S. studio in Kastav. Its production is warm and Grbac gives each instrument enough space while at the same time manages to keep the album sound as a unified whole. “GERBAZ GIIPUJA” during entire 50 minutes is an intensive experience of free experimenting with music, with some parts that are a bit quieter, softer, more relaxed or more melodic, but listener’s attention is always directed to music’s tension. Music is powerful, violent and unstoppable like an avalanche, unrestrained, always on the edge, but still always so natural and profoundly emotional.
From the viewpoint of rock music fans, whom this portal is primarily oriented to, “Gerbaz Giipuja” should intrigue fans of Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa or Tom Waits, the guys that would, we believe, appreciate damjans music a lot. Although they are not using electric instruments electrics and are different in many aspects, damjans in their own way evoke even invasive pulsing of the Stooges.
Why have we mentioned blues in the band description? They are not a blues band form-wise, but in their music there is an echo of crying, calling, grave tone of daily torments whimsically expressed by peasants and labourers of Istria and Kvarner.
Second promotion of the “Gerbaz giipuja” album has been held in ex-cinema Mosor in Zagreb, as part of the Monday Nights Programme organized by the Zagrebjazzorkestra and Sigi Feigl, which is held every Monday at 20:30, with the (interesting) program lasting until the end of June.
In a pleasant space of Theatre Applause, damjans played ten songs from both of their albums during an hour and a half. Concert was marked by excellent, clean sound, and their concert performance appeared somewhat softer, more intimate, less ferocious than their studio recordings, but that didn’t come out as a flaw, but simply as music in a different colour.
Ratings: damjans “Gerbaz giipuja”: 9/10
(concert: ex Cinema Mosor/Aplauz Theatre, Zagreb, 23rd March 2015)