What happens when you take one of the leading names in jazz percussion, and mate it with the heart and soul of an artist who finds beauty amid war and strife? You get Zana Messia and The Balkan Soul Orchestra.
Messia, a native of the former Yugoslavia – in that mountainous region of Eastern Europe known as the Balkans – and now a resident of Los Angeles, has teamed up with Harvey Mason, a founding member of Fourplay who has also fronted his own band as well as sitting in session for numerous other artists. The result is Balkan Soul (2012), a fascinating, cross-genre set of mostly original music.
Mason executive produced this album and appears on most of the 10 tracks, playing drums, percussion, marimba and vibes. The rest of the orchestra is a variable mix of assorted instruments, with each song having a different combination.
The strength of Balkan Soul lies largely in the match of Messia’s
voice and strong lyrics. “This Is How I Get” is a ballad of sorts. The
singer is a woman who desires intimacy with the man she’s speaking to, but
is nervous because she doesn’t know how he’ll treat her. “It’s so
destructive, having to hold back / when all I want is to give into this.”
The music is like a slow march, played in the tradition of Balkan music,
but sang with the verve of modern blues or soul. Dan Weinstein plays
multiple instruments, including tuba and violin. The piece picks up
briefly for a frantic, instrumental break, then abruptly shifts to the