Cocek! Brass Band
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Cocek! Brass Band

Allston, Massachusetts, United States

Allston, Massachusetts, United States
Band World Acoustic




This band has no press


Still working on that hot first release.



Sam Dechenne was an aspiring trumpet player, still in junior high school, when he looked through CDs in his local public library. One cover caught his eye, a picture of men holding shiny brass instruments, and he began to smile. The name of the band was exotic – Fanfare Ciocărlia. He had no idea what it meant or where they come from. But when he got home and played the disc, his life was changed forever. In that moment the foundation for Cocek! Brass Band was laid. Now their debut CD, ‘Here Comes Shlomo’ (released October 2nd, 2014) has arrived.

“I fell in love with the music,” recalls Dechenne. “It really spoke to me. From there I discovered more Balkan brass and it became the biggest influence on the band.”

For all that they’re named after a Balkan dance, Cocek! Brass Brand aren’t slavish copyists of the style. It’s definitely there, but it’s only one ingredient in a spicy stew of horns. The five-piece (two trumpets, trombone, tuba, and drums) also draw from jazz, New Orleans, and even reggae – not too much of a stretch as Dechenne is a member of John Brown’s Body, one of America’s leading roots reggae bands.

“I wrote all the material on the album,” Dechenne explains. ‘We’re not trying to be traditional. It comes from all the music I’ve played, whether it’s Balkan, West African, Dixieland, classical brass, marching bands, or whatever.”

And so “Slow Jump, Fast Fall” carries echoes of the slow drag style of early jazz, while faint traces of “Summertime” drift across “Vagabond Dreamin’."

“I’ve been writing tunes for the last year,” Dechenne notes. “I didn’t really intend on doing anything with them. But when the band just came together last winter, we really hit the ground running, playing shows as much as we could for the last six months, then going into the studio. We already have another album’s worth of material.”

With just five players, Cocek! Brass Band is much smaller than most Balkan-style ensembles. But that was a very deliberate choice for Dechenne.

“I wanted it to be small in order to be sustainable,” he notes. “I play with larger bands and they’re so hard to organize. This way I can find voices that musicians don’t usually take on. So we’ll use the trumpets for harmonies while someone else takes on the melody, for instance, and the drums have a much larger role than usual. It means we’re constantly playing – there’s no laying out. By the end of a set we’re hurting.”

Listen closely and there’s plenty of klezmer in the sound, too. That’s unusual, as the style usually revolves around violin and clarinet. But it’s not too astonishing. Both Dechenne and tuba player Jim Gray work in Klezwoods, while drummer Grant Smith is a founder of the famed Klezmer Conservatory Band and works with the legendary Itzhak Perlman.

“It’s definitely there,” Dechenne agrees, “but there’s always been a crossover between klezmer and Roma music, which is one of the roots of Balkan brass. And half the tracks of the album are Balkan čoček dance tunes. People might not be able to pronounce the word (it’s cho-check) but that’s fine. What we really want is to bring this music to a wide range of people.”

The enthusiasm on the disc is infectious, from the woozy virtuosity of “Clown Walk” to the more reflective closer, “Mountain Love Song.” And what they do is enough to convince people who grew up with that brass sound.

“We played a show in Boston and a bunch of guys from Serbia were in the audience. They stood right at the front with their arms crossed. We didn’t know what to expect. Afterwards, they came up and said they loved it.”

Although they use microphones for concerts, they can also play without amplification, which opens up more options. At a bar gig in New Hampshire they ended up playing out on the porch for the crowd that had assembled there on a warm spring evening.

“It’s not typical dance music for Americans, but it’s definitely party music,” Dechenne says. “And that’s what I want, that’s what matters to me. We’d love to play festivals and concerts, but we still want to play small bars, too.”

With Here Comes Shlomo, Cocek! Brass Band are on the way. It’s accomplished, brimming with confidence and invention. But Dechenne has never forgotten the seventh grader who was so transfixed by Fanfare Ciocărlia.

“They played her in January and I finally had the chance to see them. When the show was over I told them about my band.” He pauses, as if he can’t quite believe the response. “They said we should come over to Romania. And that we could stay with them. That’s pretty amazing.”

For Sam Dechenne and Cocek! Brass Band, dreams do come true. 

Band Members