The first Balkan Brass Band I ever encountered

Long ago, around 1991 or so, I was in my most obsessive "must learn everything about everything" stage and on the constant lookout looking for music to play on my radio show. A friend handed me a cassette he had made from another cassette that another friend had brought back from Germany. Yeah, that was how it was back in the Dark Days prior to the Internet and easy access to anything. If you wanted to learn anything other than what was fed you you really had to get your hands dirty and work hard to uncover gems at all.

What he gave me was this dub of a dub of famed Serbian trumpeter Svetozar Lazović 

Found the original eventually
 with no song titles or any info, just the cassette with a strange name on it. Needless to say, I was entranced. Hadn't heard anything remotely like it and as a life long brass bandsman I had heard plenty up to that point, Mexican Banda on the radio and NOLA street bands on the corner to name but a few. But this was just a revelation. It lead to basically everything else I ever discovered since.

Then just this week I find this amazing live recording from Amsterdam in 1989 where they are pretty much playing down the same tunes as was on my battered cassette (which I passed along to the next soon to be fan.) There's the Eastern Orthodox hymn at the start into the standard showpiece "Ciocarlia." Next jumping into a set of the lively "kolos" that earned him and his band several "Golden Trumpet" awards at the prestigious Guca Festival, basically a mark of the best in all Serbia. And unlike many of the bands popular with Western fans,  Lazović  is just playing the standard ethnically Serbian material, devoid of the sexy "coceks" of the Rromani bands. This live recording captures what I've been told is the standard of their form, in it's best presentation. Along with the awesome sound the brass is making, I've always been taken by the strong clear vocals, by who I am not sure, with the rest of the band in full chorus behind him. Of note towards the end of the concert is a tune called "Mesciccina," Not the highly stylized version made famous by soundtrack producer Goran Bregovic, but he original and much much different.

Note the traditional garb

By soaking in these tunes for literally years, I was in a good position to join the famed Boban Markovic Band onstage as second bass tuba when Frank London's Klezmer Brass All Stars toured with them. It came in REALLY handy when we played in Chicago and were met with a huge audience of Serbian ex-pats who weren't really interested in the Rromani tunes and Boban played an hour long set of kolos for the drunken Serbs (who threw literally thousands of one dollar bills at us as the danced around the hall.) I tag teamed the tuba with my teacher Sascha Alisinov, tapping in and out when we each needed a break. 

If anyone wants to embark on the rough journey of imitating Rromani Brass traditions, I'd humbly recommend to start here and master the Serbian form, which is the basis to the more lively and sexy Rromani bands like Boban. I posit it would be like trying to learn Black American music as starting at Ornette Coleman, ignoring Ellington and Charley Patton, devoid of the context in which the music was created and how it lives as an expanding and progressive tradition to the community who regards it as it's own soundtrack. It's a vibrant tradition carried on today by Lazović's son Dragan and Boban's son Marko.  What they do today would make little sense if you hadn't understood where they came from and what it's function is. Well, that's my opinion for what its worth. You're welcome to do as you like, ultimately.

But for any casual listener I feel you would be rewarded by attending to these 45 minutes:

For reference, American Serbs dancing the kolo: