Choban Elektrik release their self-titled debut album today. This is one of the most exciting records I’ve heard this year. Taking the psychedelic prog rock, jazz and funk sounds of Frank Zappa’s 70s material and mixing it with inspiration found in Balkan music, Choban Elektrik (“Electric Shepherds”) offer a refreshing twist on the instrumental trio. Their music is filled with vintage Hammond organs and Fender Rhodes pumped through rotating Leslie speakers, accompanied by bass and drums. The group pours passion and skill into Albanian, Macedonian, Greek and Armenian tunes. Jordan Shapiro, the keyboard player and arranger of Choban Elektrik, trained intensively in piano, guitar, and oboe performance as well as jazz studies. He had no idea he’d ever be playing music like this.
“I had no exposure to world music my entire upbringing. My parents loved classical music and Broadway shows. This was the last thing I’d ever have imagined doing.” – Jordan Shapiro
Shapiro arrived in Brooklyn and spent a decade playing with a bunch of groups, as a core member and a sideman. He started a progressive bluegrass band, Astrograss, and joined a Zappa tribute ensemble (which included original members of Zappa’s band), Project/Object, where he met Choban’s bassist, Dave Johnsen. After attending the Golden Festival, New York’s annual gathering of Balkan fans and top performers, Shapiro became inspired by Balkan music and got himself an accordion. He studied with Albanian accordionist Raif Hyseni who taught him the ways of Eastern European improvisation, by encouraging soloists to express and expand on the theme. Jordan took this knowledge back to his collection of vintage keyboards and worked closely with Johnsen (bass) and multifaceted percussionist Phil Kester (who plays everything from drums to riq to tuned bronze alloys) to develop Choban Elektrik’s unique sound.
The result is a stunning debut album that captivates the heart and soul with its inspired improvisations. Listen to a sample of the record above and on bandcamp. Catch Choban Elektrik at The Rock Shop in Brooklyn tonight for their release party. Accompanying the band will be Which Way East (featuring violinist Jesse Kotansky and singer Eva Salina Primack from the Choban CD) and Raya Brass Band (featuring Don Godwin, engineer of Choban CD). Pick up the CD at the show or at your local record store.