Updated: 3 days ago
I still remember the very first gig I played with Moy Avaz, not too long after the band had formed.
We performed in front of a small, somewhat random crowd at a cozy little festival. No one there was a jazz buff or knew anything about Balkan folklore, so people certainly had no idea what to expect from this band which was announced as playing "Balkan Jazz" or something like that.
We knew we were somewhat of an outlier in that night's line-up (to say the least), and since we had spent a considerable amount of time in the rehearsal room but never played our material in front of an audience, we were all a little nervous what reactions we might get.
So how did it go? Let's say we got caught completely off guard when after the last song of our set the audience cheered for encores and asked where they could buy our CD (neither of which we had on offer, obviously).
It was from that first gig (and the warm reactions we got from it) that I realized what a great band we had created. Working out the material sure had been fun and we were all very engaged in the process, but getting this special stage energy to flow for the first time was an eye-opener. I could see now that there had to be bigger audiences out there for the kind of music we played.
But it also dawned on me that we would have a lot of work in front of us communicating WHAT kind of music we actually played.
I mean, WE did not even know what to call it.
Beaches, Socialism and Return to Forever
So, what is it about this fusion-band-meets-accordion, Balkan-meets-jazz quartet? How was it that four guys from four different countries came together to play this music that is so hard to describe we had to invent a name for it?
Of the four of us, Boris and I have known each other the longest. We met in music school here in Munich back in 2007 or so, and we soon became friends. We played together in everything from a jazz trio to an Oktoberfest band. And why not - playing any kind of music is fun when there's a character (and rock-solid bassist) like Boris in the band!
Boris Boskovic grew up on the shores of the Adriatic, in the ancient town of Pula, Croatia. He had his musical epiphany when, as a teenager, he got his hands on one of the countless audio tapes of American music that were making their round in what was then Socialist Yugoslavia - and by this way he was introduced to the music of Chick Corea’s Return to Forever.
This must have been a life-changing moment because soon after this initial exposure, Boris’ long rockstar hair came off and he began to dig deep into the world of funk and fusion.
It seems, though, that the musical traditions of his home region, the Balkan peninsula, have played an equally important part in his growing as a musician - and composer! In any case, when Boris showed me some of his latest compositions in 2015, there was already this unique blend of odd-meter rhythms and South-Eastern melodies with jazz-heavy improvisation and a fusion-inspired sound, that has since come to define the style of Moy Avaz.
Now, my adolescence in a suburb of Munich, Germany was quite a bit different from Boris'. It is hard to think of a place less Mediterranean and less Socialist than where I grew up. And musically... well, this cheerful (and quite successful) young couple lived in our neighbourhood back then:
(Okay, I apologize!)
Anyways, for some reason I had always had a strong interest in unusual rhythms, and listening heavily to groups like the Mahavishnu Orchestra when I was about 18 years old, plus marvelling at the folk music I heard on a month-long trip through Bulgaria, kind of prepared me for the task of playing odd-meters of seven or eleven beats to the bar. (I still find it sufficiently challenging, though).
In any case I was instantly hooked on the idea of forming a band around this initial set of Boris' compositions.
At around the same time when Boris and I were working out some first arrangements, a young talented drummer from Serbia, Dzenan Suntic, moved to Munich to study here. Before Dzenan even learned two words of German, Boris - quite the networker - had already bonded with him and invited him over for a rehearsal.
What can I say? We instantly found Dzenan was the perfect fit for our band in the making. Serbian folk music is full of great intricate, yet danceable rhythms and while Dzenan feels quite at home in all of them he is also an accomplished fusion drummer. And he even brought an oriental touch to the group by integrating a Darbouka drum in his drum set!
The Prescription: More Accordion!
So things were getting real, we started rehearsing and working out all of those tunes and grooves in earnest...
However, at this point, the three of us were facing somewhat of a challenge.
A big challenge, in fact.
The music that was taking shape in our band room was layed out for a quartet. And it is fair to say that we had some hard-to-meet requirements regarding our fourth band member.
We were in search of someone who would complement our keyboards-bass-drums trio with a more traditional, folklore instrument so as to keep the roots of this music perceivable. Someone who felt equally at home in Eastern European scales, rhythm and harmony AND in contemporary jazz, funk and fusion. Someone who knew how to improvise and could take lead on many tunes but was also capable of being part of a rhythm section, comping for keyboard or bass solos.
Little did we know if such a dream-player even existed anywhere in our area. That is, until a friend of the band introduced us to Vlad!
Vladislav Cojocaru grew up in Moldova, picked up the accordion at the age of nine, moved out from his parents’ home one year later to learn traditional repertoire and later moved on to Munich to study Classical and jazz music.
So, clearly, this guy knew his instrument.
But what’s really rare about Vlad is his versatility as a group player. He sounds as authentic in a tango setting as in electronic music, his playing has all the romanticism and lyricism you would expect from a Moldovian accordion player but on the other hand, as one audience member once put it: „dude, this guy can shred!“
"I Usually Don't Like Jazz But..."
So that is the story of how the four of us found each other and how we combined our musical voices into one distinctive band sound. Once the quartet was complete, it was not long before we played that very first gig - and the real magic started to happen.
Ever since that first show at that little festival (and by the way, meanwhile we do have an album that we sell at these occasions) the experience from back then has repeated itself over and over, in small clubs, packed theaters and even online concerts: people who never expected to like anything that goes by the name of jazz and who did not previously have any connection with accordion or Balkan music, falling in love with this thing that we still don't know how to categorize, other than the term we made up for it:
"New Eastern Jazz".