LES YEUX NOIRS
BERGER PERFORMING ARTS CENTER
Friday, March 19
The music of Les Yeux Noirs is "always traveling music," said Eric Slabiak, half of the violin-playing pair of brothers who lead the group, from the stage last Friday. "So we wish you a good trip."
It would have been difficult to imagine a more joyous musical journey than the one on which the Paris-based sextet took the audience, exploring variations on gypsy and klezmer music from around the world. The concert, produced by Rhythm and Roots, kicked off the band's current American tour and marked its third Tucson appearance in a decade.
Eric Slabiak served as the evening's master of ceremonies, charming the audience with his heavily accented English. Wiry and compact, he resembled an elfin club kid in his crushed velvet suit, in contrast to his slightly rounder brother, Olivier, whose beard, fedora and small spectacles granted him the air of a wise village doctor. Their furious fiddle duets often were the focus, although the whole group—electric bass and guitar, drums and accordion—was excellent. The music was far from traditional, conflating and combining Roma music with klezmer, and adding touches of jazz, reggae and funk. There were rousing instrumentals for dancing, as well as songs in Russian, Yiddish, French and Serbian.
At times, Eric's violin came forward while Olivier played hauntingly with various effects pedals. On the accordion, Vincent Peirani took several melodic leads, and his support gave a rich orchestral depth to the arrangements. Drummer Aidje Tafial brought a precise and limber jazz style to the rhythms.
"Djelem," known as the international anthem for Roma people, began as a stark ballad, but soon kicked out the jams as an infectious dance tune. Guitarist Franck Anastasio added vocals and dissonant guitar to this number, as well as the concert staples "Désirs Dérisoires" and "Balamouk."
The Slabiak brothers grew up in Paris in the 1970s, the sons of Jewish immigrants from Poland, and one could hear their music reaching across Europe, bridging cultures and languages all the way to the American Southwest. In a nod to tradition, they brought with them a short recording of their grandmother singing an old Yiddish tune, which preceded the wistful ballad "Yankele."