At the Brisbane Jazz Club, we pride ourselves as being Brisbane’s Home of Jazz. However, we are always willing to expand the horizons of our musical community, by featuring other genres, such as blues and world music.

And so it was, that on Saturday night, October 20th, our stage felt like the beat-beat-beating heart of a small Romani community that had set up camp by the Brisbane River.

On to that stage, stepped five sublimely talented and colourfully dressed musicians, The Balkanics. They were here to deliver a showcase of the distinctively seductive, ululating music of Macedonia and the Balkans.

Linsey Pollak couldn’t be missed in his screaming, bright and multi-coloured chequerboard suit, vest and grey pork pie cap. While his main instrument was the soprano sax, he also skillfully played two self-designed and constructed instruments:

  • A clarini, which looked, (from a distance, at least), and sounded like, a deeply resonant tin whistle.
  • A zurna, a woodwind instrument which produces a loud, high pitched, sharp, and piercing sound, typical in the music of the Balkans.

After studying Macedonian music in the 70’s, Linsey has been playing it, in various combinations of musicians, for 30 to 40 years.

Ric Halstead, on tenor sax, was very stylish, both on his instrument and in his black pants and shirt with the shimmering, shiny gold-patterned vest.

Tunji Beier, the Serge Gainsbourg lookalike with his long wavy hair, cool grey suit and cravat, was the drummer.

And oh, what a drummer. His touch, feel and precision, even on the most complex of time signatures, (and Balkan music has many, such as 22/8!!), was exquisite, and provided the perfect foundation for the other musicians.

Philip Griffin was on electric bass, looking as good as he sounded, in his red and black pin-stripes pants, brightly patterned black shirt, skinny sky-blue tie, and a sparkling sequined purple jacket.

Anthony Pizzica, playing his self-designed/built rezouki, (resonator bouzouki), was understated cool, in his blue jeans, blue shirt, vest and Fedora.

A sixth player, Brendan Hook from The Impulse Orchestra, stepped up with his tenor sax, as a guest on one piece.

As The Balkanics, this combo has been playing together for two years.

I must confess, that after the first two numbers, I was beginning to wonder if it was all going to be a bit ‘samey’. But then the third tune started with Philip’s soft, sweet bass solo, played high on the fretboard, trailed in by the gentle, ethereal tones of Anthony’s rezouki, and eventually joined by the tenor and soprano saxes.

The night was well away, and never looked back.

Of course, had you walked in tonight, expecting to hear classics such as ‘Take The A Train’ or ‘Mack The Knife’, you would have been surprised and impressed by The Balkanics’ set-list of two-thirds originals, one third traditional Macedonian tunes. And, like me, you may have stumbled and stuttered over titles such as Stipski Cocek, Sao Roma, Odjovo, Igrate and Banjski Cocek.   😊

The music and culture of Macedonia was influenced by the Ottoman empire. The music of Macedonia and the Romani people inspires The Balkanics. And The Balkanics left their mark tonight at the Brisbane Jazz Club, with a driving and colourful performance, which was a delight from start to finish.

Alan Smith

Brisbane Jazz Club

PS  Tonight was a Double Bill, but sadly, I missed the first act, The Impulse Orchestra, who were just finishing to rapturous applause as we arrived.