Debut Album Available Now on Riverboat Records on CD and Across All Digital Platforms
Pioneering NYC-based, Slovenian saxophonist/composer Jan Kus presents his extraordinary new seven-piece band, Slavo Rican Assembly, which unites his extensive experience from the NYC Latin jazz scene with his traditional South Slavic roots, on the release of their debut album, Intercosmic, available 10/22, on Riverboat Records.
Slavo Rican Assembly use the international vocabulary of jazz as a springboard to delve deep into the sounds of their own musical roots. Bomba, salsa and rumba bump up against Slovenian harvest songs, Bosnian lullabies and Serbian laments in a musical cocktail that’s 100% New York.
The idea for the project started as a joke about Jan becoming “Puerto Rican by osmosis” and the group’s bassist, Dan Martínez becoming “Slavic by osmosis”, because of the musicians they regularly performed with. This concept was further reinforced by multiple tours of Puerto Rico and Slovenia, finally culminating in a cohesive musical recipe, perfectly captured on this debut international release.
It’s also the culmination of a long journey for Kus, who first first fell in love with Latin jazz as an undergrad studying music in the Netherlands, when his roommate, trombonist Santiago Cañada, turned him on to the sounds of Cuba and Puerto Rico. In 2012, Kus followed his ears to NYC to pursue a career as a working jazz musician. There he discovered the city’s Caribbean heartbeat, and dove deep into the city’s Jazz scene and soon he was gigging all over the city with such heavyweights as Antonio Hart, Alex Sipiagin, Melanie Charles, Jason Palmer, Linda Oh, as well as Latin jazz giants Miguel Zenón, Fernando García, and César Orozco, Luisito Quintero, Diego Obregon , and more. In 2016 Kus made his recording debut as a bandleader with the critically-acclaimed Faith, which All About Jazz’s Chris Slawecki called “an excellent lesson in the globally transcendent nature of modern jazz”.
At the heart of the Slavo Rican assembly project is the deep, collaborative friendship between Kus and bassist Dan Martinez. Martinez was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and has been playing professionally since the age of 17. While studying at the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico he started taking double bass lessons and occasionally studying with bass legend Eddie Gomez. He arrived in NYC in 2011 — just one year before Kus — to pursue his Master degree in Jazz Performance, and soon garnered a reputation as a versatile, in-demand player, performing with many projects with artists from all over the world. Dan has recorded and performed as a side man with artists like David Sanchez, Alex Sipiagin, Al Jarreau, Cheo Pardo, Randy Brecker, Ruben Blades and and many more. The band is rounded out by vocalist Aleksandra Denda, Gabriel Vicéns on guitar, Ahmed Alom on piano and keyboards, Victor Pablo on congas and percussion, and Žan Teti?kovi? on drums.
“The focus of Slavo Rican Assembly,” says Jan “is the exploration of the similarities and differences between the music of the Puerto Rican (and wider Spanish-speaking Caribbean) and South Slavic cultures, merging the two into a cohesive, brand-new sound.” What makes this delicate formula work in Jan’s opinion is “The emotional charge and spiritual depth that these musical traditions both possess.” The band’s members, from both sides of this Slavo Rican musical equation, are all prominent NYC-based musicians who seamlessly combine the melancholic sounds of Southeast Europe with the fiery rhythms of the Caribbean.
The band plays three re-imagined versions of South Slavic folk songs on Intercosmic, which are central to the theme of the album. After the high-flying opening of ‘Intro Elevation’, they deliver a sublime re-interpretation of the Slovenian harvesting song, ‘Zrejlo je žito’, expertly weaving the melancholic melody over the contrasting 12/8 Afro-Caribbean flavoured bass line, which also serves as the foundation for some fiery percussion and drum solo trades. Next up is the Bosnian sevdalinka, ‘Što te nema’, a slow, moody and very emotional piece about missing a loved one which concludes with expressive saxophone and guitar solos.
The third and final folk song of the album is the epic pre-release single ‘Vo naše selo’ from Prizrenska Gora, on which the band collaborated with the enchanting ROSA Vocal Group, led by Slavo Rican’s vocalist Aleksandra Denda. This playful song, about a man trying to impress a young woman opens with the vocal group’s sonorous a cappella intro, reminiscent of “The Mystery Of The Bulgarian Voices”, before exploding into a full power Puerto Rican dance party! The fun then continues with ‘Bomba Jam’, as the band further honours, as well as pushes the boundaries of the Puerto Rican bomba tradition with a helping hand from guest musician Fernando García on the barril de bomba. Bassist Dan Martínez then pays tribute to his island homeland with his composition ‘Oda a María’, describing Puerto Rico’s strength in fighting the untameable disaster of Hurricane María in 2017, which includes uplifting lyrics by Dan’s brother, Hector Martínez, the chorus of which translates as “Little girl, resist, hold on, the dawn is coming”. Likewise, Jan’s closing track ‘True Heroes’, is another heartfelt composition and a jazz/gospel tribute to a dear friend who managed to keep his soul intact after dealing with an unspeakable loss – “Sometimes true heroes wear a cloak of black, sometimes it’s hard to see the gold behind the broken smile, sometimes there’s nothing that can break a man, sometimes the crows are loud.”
The band’s genre-evading approach is epitomized in ‘Vamp song’, with its simple repetitive melody in perfect unison with the contrasting nature of the polyrhythmic drums and percussion parts underneath. Jan says that this is a “song meant for healing of any kind”, where the harmonic-major, light-dark nature of the mantra-like repetitive melody is reflecting optimism in hard times. The song’s message is then reinforced by a profound spoken word from none other than the great Jiddu Krishnamurti. And let’s not forget ‘Thunderbadger’, a catchy, backbeat driven galactic jazz funk piece, inspired in part by the music of the LA bassist/singer Thundercat (hence the name), which aptly interweaves some odd metre rhythms (typical of the Balkans) into its hypnotic groove.
Source: Tom Pryor Publicity