Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Krunoslav Špišić @ World Cafe Live

On Saturday, June 9th, I was fortunate enough to have tickets to see Kruno Spisic and friends performing at Philly’s World Café Live Café, the Upstairs lounge. Housed in the renovated Hajoca Building down the street from the U of Penn campus, this venue has been quite successful, a credit to the folks who set up the club and certainly a well-managed spill-off from the ever-growing kingdom of college-based radio, WXPN.
The Upstairs lounge is a cozy area, with two floor levels filled with tables for couples and groups and a long bar on the right side of the room for individual seating. Acoustics and sound equipment are clear and enjoyable, which is a surprise as the venue has 20-25 foot ceilings; some acoustic engineer knew what he/she was doing. Sight lines are a bit off as the performance stage is minimally elevated. If you’re not sitting at a table within 25 feet of the stage, prepare yourself for a long night of cocking your head from side to side and a lot of leaning forward and back. If this gets tiring, as it did, one can always get lost in the pools of love emanating from your companion’s eyes and simply let your ears stay engaged to the music while your eyes are only on her/him. Good for bonus points of the romantic variety, don't you know.

And what music to engage oneself in... All acoustic instruments; the deep resonant sounds of aged wood and taut steel strings. Two rhythm guitarists furiously keeping up with Mr. Spisic as he picked and bent notes with a most rapid of motion. There was a double bass player, laying down solid lines behind the ever-advancing army of plucked guitar sounds. Since the bass player was standing, he was consistently the only person we saw during the 2 hour performance.
Mr. Spisic cuts quite a figure. Like most men of Croatian origin (most, not all, so I’m not including myself here), he is of the tall, dark, & handsome variety, which made it easier on the women who were dragged to this show by their music-seeking men. I can’t say enough about his guitar-playing. He’s not a showy performer at all, reveling in the performance of the group. He has a deep, dark singing voice which he used only on a few occasions to sing Balkan songs, "Svaku Zenu, Volim Ja" (I Love All Women) and "Delem Delem" (I Walk I Walk) among others. I eagerly translated the songs for my family but, as my daughter pointed out, I could have been telling them anything about the songs and they’d assume my translation was true. Mr. Spisic would have helped the cause by noting some of the key lines of the songs for his listeners, although most folks seemed more than happy to remain in the dark since his voice was so enjoyable to listen to. Perhaps it was our seating or my poor hearing that negated my comprehension of most of the patter he had in between songs. At the end of the performance, I also missed hearing the names of his fellow musicians, all of whom were excellent and obviously in the same state of mind and performance as Mr. Spisic.

The repertoire was mainly Django Reinhardt’s catalogue; songs Mr. Reinhardt had actually composed or songs that he loved playing. Mr. Reinhardt’s most popular song, Minor Swing (remember the underlying music of Chocalat, was faithfully and energetically performed by Mr. Spisic. The general format of the songs were your typical jazz renderings. Theme, solo, theme, solo, and close out with a pithy version of the theme again. Where Reinhardt’s renditions tended to be in the 3 minute area, occasionally straying into the 4 minute area, most of Mr. Spisic’s versions were in the 4:30 to 6 minute time frame. The runs were breathtaking, the slower pieces were clever combinations of various songs, the overall affect was listening to a craftsman thoroughly enjoying his craft. The audience’s response reflected this. There was enthusiasm and a lot of neck-craning as the evening wore on. When the last song was finished Mr. Spisic and his cohorts cahooted off stage and into the darkness, a djingling Djangology of notes still hanging in the air.

I'll be checking his site for future concert dates. He's not worth seeing only once! He also has a MySpace site available with some videos. His next performance will up at the Django In June festival on June 16th at the Helen Hills Chapel in Northhampton, MA

He played most, if not all, of the songs on his only CD. I’m waiting to see how well he was recorded; if the CD’s anything close to his live performance, it will an album well worth listening to.

Just a short biography with sites to visit linked within.Krunoslav Spisic (Lead guitar in the band Crossing Paths) was born in Ontario, Canada. From what I can best gather, it was somewhere between Kitchner and Mississauga, about a 50-60 mile spread. He began his musical training at the early age of 8 (or 10, depending on where Google lands you). He found himself playing rock and blues throughout his teenage years, honing his technical prowess and improvisational abilities. While studying at Duquesne University, Krunoslav was introduced to Django-style guitar by Richard Balazs, and began a passionate study of the Gypsy Jazz genre. Upon returning home to Canada, he was fortunate to study with and perform under the tutelage of Arsen Torlakovic, a world-class gypsy jazz musician. Torlakovic played with legends such as Birelli Lagrene and Robin Nolan. After playing the Toronto jazz circuit, Kruno gained an extensive repertoire and a more mature understanding of the gypsy jazz idiom. In January of 2002, Kruno reunited with his friends Richárd Balázs and Brock Belich to re-introduce and popularize the sounds of Django and Gypsy Music.

Andrew Lawrence, Event Organizer at Django In June, mentioned on his site that, "(he) had a chance to hear Krunoslav "Kruno" Spisic play in New York City a couple of years ago and promised myself that I would find a way to include him in Django in June as soon as possible. Kruno is now based in Philadelphia, PA, but to hear him sing and play you'd think he'd just gotten off the boat from the Old Country. Having grown up in a Croatian household and cut his instrumental teeth on an Eastern European variety of mandolin called the Tambura, Kruno makes distinctive and beautiful music by fusing Eastern European folk traditions with Django swing." From Django in June

From a Croatian site, Volavje, some familial information was provided along with pictures. Kruno’s older brother, Mark Špišić, concocted the Tambura Orkestar. He graduated from Duquesne, an educational path that Kruno followed. Mark Špišić is currently(???) the musical director of a folklore group, Kraljice Jelene, in Kitchner, Ontario.

Kruno and his older brother, Mark at a concert party in Mississaugua, Ontario.

Kruno and a cast of ladies

Here's an interview from Philly’s City Paper back in 2005.

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You really know how to capture the spirit of an evening of good music by way of the written word. Sounds positively enriching! I've ordered the CD.
I was there too, what a treat! Didn't know he was born in Canada though. His website is a little misleading making it sound like he is from Croatia. His voice is almost better than his playing. Ooof! And he lives in Philly? Who knew?
Hey Gwynne,
I hope that the CD reflects the smooth intensity of his performance. If he's ever in your neck of the woods, I hope you get to catch his act.

To Anonymous: Is that tomato your catch line? It was a great show, wasn't it? How he ended up in Philly is bizarre. I figured, based on his bio info, that, if he ended up outside of Canada, he'd be in NYC or Pittsburgh. But since he's in Philly, I sure hope he plays there more often. Did you see where he played at Chris' Jazz Cafe in May? Maybe he makes a once a month appearance in town?
Greetings to fans of Kruno's, both new and old:) I have had the pleasure of catching Kruno's show at The Green Mill in Chicago twice in the last year and plan on securing tickets to the Django Reinhardt Festival at Symphony Hall when he returns on 10/26. This write up is dead-on; you can easily get lost in how fast Kruno's fingers move over the strings of his guitar or in his voice which I continually describe as hypnotic and smooth as velvet. As for describing him as an attractive Croatian man- I didn't pay much attention.....:)
Unbelievable live performer- don't miss a show!
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