Over the past decade, globally minded U.S. improvisers have embraced Eastern European folk music as their primary influence, borrowing the snaky melodies of klezmer and the back-country fire of the Balkan Gypsy traditions. New York jazz leaders such as John Zorn, Chris Speed, and Pachora define the hip, virtuosic alchemies of the East Coast school, while Bay Area creative-music masters such as Ben Goldberg, Tin Hat Trio, and Charming Hostess offer arguably wilder hybrids from the Left Coast.
Peoples Bizarre is the latest San Francisco band to adapt the Balkan aesthetic to its own musicmaking ideals. A relative newcomer on the scene, the sextet distinguishes itself from the glut of similar combos with a well-developed group sound that makes the most of classic chamber instrumentation (violin, cello, upright bass, clarinet, accordion) and adds drums for rhythmic punch. Whether playing traditional Yiddish ballads with quiet sensitivity or bouncing headlong into original polkas, Peoples Bizarre performs with one voice.
That's not to say the ensemble lacks able soloists. Oberlin-trained violinist Sarah Zaharako and clarinetist Colin Stetson are both engaging improvisers. But neither of them soars: Their lead lines tend to stick to the songs' melodic foundations, as if each player were taking the reins for a spell as they travel their pre-charted course. This solidarity bolsters the group's formidable collective power, which should grow even stronger as the bandmates play together.