Friday, May 23, 2008

Guignol: Tour de Force Ethnopunk

Brooklyn-based Guignol (pronounced Geen-yol) weaves together sounds familiar to many cultures to synthesize something totally fresh. The four-piece group consists of clarinetist Peter Hess, accordionist Franz Nicolay, tubaist George Rush, and drummer John Bollinger. Tonight's two-set show at Zebulon in Williamsburg featured guest guitarist Jeremiah Lockwood (of Balkan Beat Box and Sway Machinery) at the helm in Nicolay's place. Each musician is not only able when it comes to their specialty instrument, but goes above and beyond the normal expectations. The clarinet wails up and down gypsy scales and dips pitch seamlessly. The guitarist's stony visage, contrasted by his resonance with the music and ease of playing, through changes and solos, adds depth to the group. The tuba holds up the entire group, freeing Bollinger to fool around with off-beats and mixed meters. Anyone trying to follow his every motion would have surely been baffled and amazed.

The group plays so tightly in even the most obscure harmonic-minor and modal scales, and mixed and changing meters and tempos. This isn't your every day quartet. It is self-proclaimed "ethnic music for a country that doesn't exist." A mix of all their tastes, from traditional to gypsy to 20th century, this music truly embodies individuality while keeping the familiar flavors of Balkan music close at hand.

The first set consisted of a mix of songs from the band's self-titled album as well as new cuts. The musicians burned through the hour-long set, a non-stop tour-de-force. During the interim of the two sets, the younger crowd filtered out. When it was time for the second set, most of the crowd a few more drinks deep, got to the front of the now-less-crowded room and began to dance. This crowd obviously enjoyed themselves even more, resonating in time (and sometimes not in time at all) with the aforementioned obscure rhythmical music.

For someone who's never seen Guignol before, Friday night's gig at Zebulon was quite a treat. Although missing their signature mustachioed accordionist, the group played just about every song they know. That's not something that happens every show.

Sometimes frantic, sometimes tense, sometimes held back, this music always throws you a curveball. Many people believe that music's most important impetus is the ability to control and vary levels of tension throughout a piece. Let's just say that these guy's have got a grip on that. The next time these four get on stage, you'd be foolish to miss it.

According to their website, Guignol is scheduled to play a show on June 30 with The Zydepunks.

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