album reviews

Black Masala
Black Masala
Self-released (2014)

Kindred spirits: Red Baraat, Gogol Bordello, DeVotchKa.

There's no mistaking the energy on Black Masala's self-titled debut album. Even on a studio recording, the Washington-based gypsy brass octet conjures a dance party.

Black Masala is just two years old, but several of its members perform with other Washington bands: Saxophonist Frank Mitchell Jr. with Thievery Corporation and trombonist Matt Hotez with reggae Beatles tribute Yellow Dubmarine. But this album is such a cohesive whole that individual members' pedigrees are hardly important.

The band switches seamlessly between lead vocalists: Mike Ounallah takes on album opener "Feels the Same" with a raucous snarl, while Kristen Long's sultry croon heats up the saucy "Knockin'". The band is equally comfortable without vocals. "Bhangra V" tells its own story with horn blasts and varying melodies, and album closer "Circus/Jeni Jol" skitters at breakneck speed, hovering just before a chaotic outbreak.

Black Masala never lets its energy get away from itself. The track "Round and Around" starts slowly but gradually accelerates at a pace that easily could have spun out of control. The band transitions several times between fast and slow, so the song has a bit of a predictable pacing, but it still handles each tempo change masterfully.

It's impressive how well Black Masala captured its energy in the studio. Even more remarkable is how it channeled that energy with so much control.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 28 February 2014.
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