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Culture Reviews
Brazzaville
B2 Club 
By Katherine Dolan
On Thursday night at 11:30 pm, Moscow nightclub B-2 hosted Brazzaville, a cool-jazz pop group from Los Angeles. Earlier in the day, lead singer and composer David Brown shared some of the band's history at a press conference at internet-cafe in Soyuz music shop.

A diminutive figure in a peaked cap and pencil-thin moustache, Brown dealt calmly with questions such as whether he liked Moscow ('yes') and if he would like to play in Brazzaville, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo ('if I had enough security'). When one journalist asked Brown why he named the band as he had, he explained that the word 'Brazzaville' seemed uneasy to identify. He chose it not so much for the African city as for an imaginary city 'that would seem like a good place to escape to in an alternative world in terms of music and art'.

Brazzavile grew out of L.A.'s thriving coffee-house culture, and all the band members had been friends or acquaintances before joining. The six-piece group resembles a jazz ensemble more than a pop group, with double-bass,brass and accordion joining the traditional drums and guitar. Brown cites his influences as including punk, French Impressionism and Jorge Ban for his willingness to repeat phrases over and over, inducing a meditative state.

Brown also talked about anunusual project of his: rigging a ship with a stage and living quarters for musicians to tour the world by sea. He envisages that the cargo ship (fueled by used peanut oil) will stop at major port cities and give concerts to on-shore audiences.

For now, however, Brazzaville is on tour promoting their second album,'Rouge on Pock-marked Cheeks'. The album consists of eleven songs, all composed by Brown. To my ears, the music seems unremarkable: soporific jazz for pop fans. Retro kitsch, with the use of bongos, mellofton, and faftisz organ seemed inviting in the first song 'Motel Room' but palled after four songs with more of the same.

Another problem is the lyrics, which are educated but riddled with bad rhyme and cliches. In 'Rainy Night', Brown exploits the glamour of drugs and male prostitution under the pretext of wringing his hands at them:

At 14
He was an adolescent
Beauty Queen
Slammin' speed
& working on the NY streets
Oh dear!

Oh dear? Men of Brown's age and origin and are not supposed to talk like that! 'Genoa' is a political song about the last three meetings of the International Monetary Fund, which were crowded with protesters. Brown lets his feelings be known in ambiguous language:

Seattle
D.C.
Gunships in Genoa
Not me

It's not clear what the last line actually means. Luckily, he explained his political stance at the press conference, saying 'I'm not "anti" anything. I'm anti-globalization but I'm also anti-anti-globalization.'

But who ever said that a pop star has to be a rocket scientist? If you can forgive Brazzaville’s weak lyrics, there is a certain attraction in its relaxed rhythms and muted rock sounds. And indeed the band has an international following, the Brown-sound overcoming cultural barriers to strike a common chord: no easy task for any band.

On the big night there was a crush at the door and the concert hall was absolutely packed. A Russian translator introduced the band, the other band members arrived on stage and started tuning up and jamming, preparing the ground for David. He came on stage, dressed in his trademark peaked cap, to loud cheers and whistles. Then the band started up. Unfortunately the sound was a bit garbled--I don't know if it was due to the acoustics of the venue or to the mixing. It didn’t matter much, however, as everyone was having a great time swaying to the music or simply gazing at the stage and soaking up the groove.

Reportedly Brown had no idea how the Russian audience would receive him. He must have been relieved and amazed by the warmth and appreciation of the huge crowd at B-2. Hundreds of music lovers, along with the best-known music critics, gathered to listen to and applaud his music. A high-up representative of Afisha, Russia’s most respected music mag, appeared in person to see one of his shows. If this fine welcome is anything to go by, Brown has gained many firm fans on the seventh continent. Perhaps we'll see him again, when his ship hoves in to Saint Petersburg harbor.

30.11.03
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