pop; live reviews; Leb I Sol Ronnie Scott's, London

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Indy Lifestyle Online
So this is what Macedonian jazz-rock sounds like. Leb I Sol may not enjoy a high profile in the UK, but their ballsy Balkan fusion - high- tech and international in its instrumentation, but sporadically eastern European in its rhythms and scales - has won every award in their own country and produced 13 highly successful albums in the past 20 years.

Playing a music formed initially from the marriage of African-American jazz and the most solemn of progressive rock, the quartet have managed to create a sound that incorporates enough elements of their own folk tradition to have even found its own place in their country's musical pride. This was apparent from a packed club of largely young, Macedonian Leb I Sol fans who punched the air, and shouted song lyrics and encouragement, with something that wasn't as aggressive as nationalism but was probably about more than just music. For a while, London's oldest and most revered modern jazz club hardly seemed itself ("Are there any Macedonians in the house tonight?" sounds like the beginning of one of Ronnie Scott's jokes).

The evening kicked off with a long and atmospheric rubato theme, soaked in that exotic misery peculiar to eastern European folk; but much of the first set was as American as Billy Cobham. There were funky backbeats in complicated time signatures;sheets-of-sound electric guitar solos and gentle, Pat Metheny-influenced compositions. It was when the audience began shouting requests that things moved quickly east, culminating in a song about the band's home town, entitled "Skopje". There was also a fast and ecstatic, folkstyle game of tag between the electric guitarist and the bassist, a melancholy, mid-tempo tune played by the latter two instruments in unison and a return, at the end, to the mysterious and attractive rubato tune that started things off.

Although a powerful and accomplished rock drummer, Dragoljuh Djuricic specialised in thumping out rolling, irregular beats on the toms in a way reminiscent of Edward Vesala, and the bassist and keyboardist were versatile, and always on top of things. Guitarist Vlatko Stefanovski was extraordinary. Low-strung guitarists indulging in fast, flashy and extended solos high up on the neck are often the recipe for the worst kind of tedium, but Stefanovski's lyrical extravagance and animation easily separated him from the fusion guitar herd.

You didn't have to be Macedonian to enjoy Leb I Sol, although it would have helped you understand the song titles. This music may be slightly changed in translation, but it certainly didn't seem diminished.

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