New Year’s Eve at Ashkenaz is traditionally an all-night affair of Balkan music and dance hosted by Édessa, in honor of the late Ashkenaz founder David Nadel and the music he first featured at his world dance club. It has been known to go into the wee hours. This year’s event includes the Balkan and Beyond folk music of Édessa followed by the return of the wild brass band Fanfare Zambaleta, plus a Cajun-Scandinavian mix to open the festivities as True Life Trio collaborates with fiddlers Joe Finn and Leslie Bonnett. For those still standing, the champagne toast (an ancient Balkan tradition) is included!
For many years one of the Bay Area’s premier Balkan dance bands, Édessa is comprised of musicians who have devoted decades to the study and performance of the rich cultural expressions of the southern Balkans. They play with a deep understanding of the connection between dance and music. Using both traditional and modern instruments, they perform in a variety of styles, featuring long sets that interweave melodies, improvisation and a beat with dancers in mind. The music comes from Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Armenia, and Turkey, and Balkan Roma (Gypsy). The group and its members have long participated in and taught at Balkan camps across the country, and Édessa was the first band to take Balkan music to Japan. Édessa is George Chittenden on clarinet, gaida (bagpipe), zurna (shawm), and guitar; Lise Liepman on santouri (hammered dulcimer) and accordion; violinist Ari Langer; bassist Paul Brown; percussionist Sean Tergis; and guest percussionist Polly Tapia Ferber, from Santa Fe.
Fanfare Zambaleta plays music in the finest and wildest Balkan brass band tradition, which developed over centuries by the Rom (gypsy) communities of Serbia, Macedonia, and Greece. This loud, fast-paced music incorporates mixed meters, close harmonies, and dramatic improvised solos. The band was incubated at San Francisco’s Zambaleta Music and Dance School before hitting the streets as an 11-member juggernaut on a mission to bring Balkan beauty to fresh ears, from the Berkeley Balkan Bacchanal to the Actual Café and, of course, Ashkenaz. Fanfare Zambaleta is Greg Jenkins (alto sax/vocals); Noah Levitt, Max Miller-Loran, and Peter Bonos (trumpets); Rachel MacFarlane (tenor horn); David Fine (baritone horn); Larry Leight (euphonium); Evan Stuart (Sousaphone); Joseph Friedman (alto sax); Ivan Velev (tapan and vocals); and Corinne Sykes (vocals and percussion).
Balkan, Scandinavian, and Cajun fiddler Joe Finn, a member of Balkan Cabaret, was a longtime friend of Ashkenaz founder David Nadel and is beloved in the Balkan community. Finn now lives in Port Townsend, Washington, but returns for the New Year’s Eve party. Tonight he teams with violinist and singer, Leslie Bonnett (of True Life Trio, Balkalicious Fire Drive, and Sayat Nvaq Ensemble), as they play Scandinavian and Cajun music for couples dancing. They are joined by True Life Trio’s Briget Boyle and Juliana Graffagna, plus other guests.
True Life Trio performs riveting vocal harmonies from Eastern Europe, the Americas, and beyond. This innovative trio explores the creative possibilities of cross-fertilization of different traditions with unlikely timbres connecting Bulgaria to the Bayou. Their captivating new album, “Like Never and Like Always,” will be available at the event. True Life Trio is Leslie Bonnett (vocals, fiddle, percussion), Briget Boyle (vocals, guitar, percussion) and Juliana Graffagna (vocals, accordion, percussion).