Anyone who goes to the Naked gig at the upcoming winter version of the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat (February 14-16) is in for a rip-roaring fun time. Then again, they may also have their heart strings given a palpable tug, and all without shedding a single item of clothing.
For over a decade now, the members of the Serbian outfit have been drawing on their Balkan music roots, as well as dipping into funk, free-form jazz and western classical music, with added Mediterranean, African, and Eastern European seasoning, to mention but a few musical styles. They have also had a barrel of fun along the way, and make no bones about imparting that to their audiences around the globe.
As one might assume from the band’s moniker, drummer-percussionist Goran Milosevic says he and his pals like to let it all hang out – at least in musical, emotional and sensorial terms. “It is like we are standing naked in front of the audience, on the stage, and we are naked with our souls and our music. What we play and perform is truly ourselves.” That suggests something of an altruistic ethos, and a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. “If you like it, you like it. If you don’t, that’s OK. But we are honest and naked in front of you with our music. That’s all we have to give you.”
That “all” is actually quite a lot. Thus far the group has put out four albums, and the lineup has changed a couple of times. The accordion and electric guitar of the original sextet have been dispensed with, and reedman Rastko Uzunovic was drafted to add new textures and flights of fancy on saxophone and clarinet, with powerhouse Israeli multi-instrumentalist – who plays practically anything and everything that produces music by blowing into it – Amir Gvirzman due to share the Eilat stage with his Serbian pals.
Gvirzman, who was a founding member of the long-running world music-rock-jazz group Esta and has mixed it with numerous leaders of the Israeli pop and rock community over the years, also produced Naked’s previous record Nakedonia, which came out in 2015. There is another Israeli connection in the form of vocalist Tula Ben-Ari who sings on the latest Naked disc, simply titled Yes. Incidentally, Ben-Ari is also on the Red Sea Jazz bill, and will appear with high-flying Israeli jazz trio Shalosh. “Tula might join us on stage as well – with Amir and our Serbian band. It will be great fun.”
The bare-it-all theme runs through the first three album titles and, says Milosevic, has far-reaching, and definitively positive connotations. “Nakedonia is a sort of imaginary country, where there is no hate – only love, no politics, no bullsh*t, no wars. There’s just music and everybody is welcome.”
Sounds like we could some of those vibes over here, and not just next week in Eilat.
The band’s ability to embrace so many musical domains and seamlessly fuse them into their work is, says Milosevic, very much down to where each of the members hail in terms of the sounds they heard in their formative years and their subsequent formal education. “Our violin player [Djordje Mijuskovic] studied classical music. But he also went to classes for free jazz for improvisation. So he has a classical approach and technique but with a jazz mind.” That’s a pretty potent combination.
Milosevic is no different. “I am influenced by everything – Led Zeppelin, you know, with [drummer] John Bonham. And as a kid I discovered jazz-rock, dance groove, psychedelia, everything, jazz – Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock.” There’s more, much more. “Our knowledge of Balkan music and Balkan rhythms connects us with Israeli music and Middle Eastern music. They may seem far away from each other but there are similarities. We also have joy and sorrow at the same time. It’s like you are happy but you are also sad.” That sounds quintessentially Jewish.
HAVING AN older sibling, who got into rock before him, also helped. “My sister listened to The Doors, and I got hooked on The Doors, with that jazzy drumming. And there was that rock drumming in Led Zeppelin. That was very new for me as a kid.” The youngster was interested in almost anything he could wrap his ears around, although there was a common denominator. “I liked everything, as long as it had a groove,” he explains.
All the above informs his approach to his craft. “I liked everything new and old so, as a musician, I know the history but I like to be in the present, in the 21st century. If you are a musician you are always discovering new music around you. Your ears are getting bigger all the time. It’s a lifetime story for musicians.”
There are some extracurricular elements which, Milosevic feels, come into play as regards to the band’s musical bottom line. “I studied philosophy and another guy studied music and someone studied history. We mix all our knowledge into our music.”
Being on the road can also help to push things along, and broaden personal and musical horizons. “We are influenced by our travels, and going to places and meeting people,” Milosevic notes. “We were in India one month and we were in South Korea, and Chile and in other places in South America. All that is a huge influence, musically and as a human being.”
Adventures and encounters are experienced and imbibed and then filter through into the band’s subsequent output. “We put those ideas into our music. We try to be expressive about that.” There is some of that in Yes. “We have a song called ‘Merken,’ which is a spice in Chile, like a smoked Chile paprika. And we have another song called ‘House of Mud’ (Kuca Od Blata), because we stayed in a house made of mud in one place in South America, so we put that into the album.”
It seems that anything goes with Milosevic and his Naked pals. Eilat tends to be a more relaxed place in the winter, but expect the local energy level to rise appreciably next Friday (2 p.m.) when the Serbs – with Israeli complement – hit the Red Sea Jazz Festival stage.
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