It was somewhere early 2017 when Salvoandrea Lucifora told me about a new band he was forming. He mentioned brass music African and Caribbean music as sources of inspiration. It was at a time when the Amsterdam improv scene quite suddenly turned out to be a feast for the hips.
In May 2017, Stichting Doek organized The Present is Present: a festival week in which the Amsterdam improvisation scene was sung from every creative corner of Amsterdam, ending in a legendary ‘All Nighter’ in the Ruimte (Amsterdam North). Think about eight hours of the most progressive live music on all floors, a lot of (young) people, lots of fun and a super urgent atmosphere.
That’s when I first heard The Zebra Street Band, they just existed, and my ears were chattering. This was partly due to the serving role of baritone saxophonist John Dikeman, above all an indomitable soloist on the tenor. But especially the amount of air, joy and fun in the band caused a stir. This was enthusiastic party music played by excellent improvising young dogs, which barked with great energy.
It is now five years later, the scene has evolved and so has the Zebra Street Band. I saw them play many times, from the BIMHUIS to the market in Amsterdam-Noord. And through all those playing hours, the band has grown, matured, without losing their playfulness. When listening to their second album you always hear the longing for the moment, for the adventure, for the spontaneity that is characteristic of the real improviser. And at the same time, this is music that you can listen to with your eyes closed. The swing, the groove is never far away, but it can also just end up in a vast spherical landscape in where the percussionists color and the horns move loosely around each other.
This is not your standard brass band. These wind players and percussionists pull you into the depths. We hear exciting tempo changes, polyrhythmic percussion and stretched, so colorful wind arrangements. Influences come from Africa, South America, the Balkans, New Orleans, hip-hop, free jazz and I’m sure I won’t hear some. As befits a real brass band, the roles are equally divided and there is no instrument that takes the leading role more often. But luckily, now and then someone sticks their neck out, because all musicians have their qualities and something to say.
Trumpet player Alistair Payne, for example, with frivolously played melodies, often also experimenting with the sound. The immense power of John Dikeman on his baritone saxophone, sometimes lays out the lines tactically and more often fiercely. Onno Govaert and Fabio Galazzi with their strikingly unadorned percussion, dancing with each other in concentration. Tenor saxophonist Andrius Dereviancenko regularly makes a surprising appearance after modestly played lines with a virtuoso played slash or an impressive lyrical theme. Band leader and composer Salvoandrea Lucifora audibly works up a sweat on his sousaphone and plays his trombone beautifully.
The sound on the record and with the headphones is striking: transparent, not too thick, but all instruments are clearly to divide and easily distinguishable from each other. That will be different live on stage, in a steaming crowd when feet lift off the floor and bodies touch each other. You feel that tension constantly: with such strong individuals and progressive compositions, the music can get wildly out of hand during a concert.
Tim Sprangers (Linear notes to Shirwku)
Salvoandrea Lucifora – Trombone, Tuba, Compositions
Alistair Payne – Trumpet
Andrius Dereviancenko – Tenor Saxophone
John Dikeman – Baritone Saxophone
Onno Govaert – Snare drum and percussion
Fabio Galeazzi – Bass drum and percussion
SHIRWKU – AUGUST 2022
ZeBrass – September 2018
SHIRWKU review by Herman the Loo‘Shirwku’ is the second album by the Amsterdam-based (but internationally occupied) Zebra Street Band, which is led by Italian brass player Salvoandrea Lucifora. Although the sextet can actually be heard regularly in the open air, the group is certainly not a standard brass band. Its artistic and creative aspirations and talents are too great for that. Nevertheless, Lucifora has forged his band into a tight unit, so that danceability is always guaranteed. In doing so, he draws in his compositions from traditions where wind orchestras on the streets can add to the revelry. We hear African rhythms, Balkan arrangements and also New Orleans-style funk. And of course the composer also looks at the music from his homeland with a slanted eye. After all, “White stones” sounds very Italian – Fellini’s resident composer Nino Rota would certainly not have been ashamed of it. With John Dikeman’s growling baritone saxophone and occasionally his own tuba, plus two percussionists (Fabio Galazzi and Onno Govaert), an unshakable foundation is laid that is perfectly at home both in intricate time signatures (with creative breaks) and unctuous grooves. And, of course, the soloistic ability of this gem of the Am- sterdam improv scene is also in order.