Since its formation in Brooklyn in the late 1990s, Barbez has released five albums, each of them engineered and mixed by the incomparable Martin Bisi (Sonic Youth, Swans, Herbie Hancock). The group’s last record, Force of Light, released on John Zorn’sTzadik label, was an homage to the Romanian-Jewish Holocaust poet Paul Celan. The band’s new record for Tzadik, Bella Ciao, is inspired by ancient Roman Jewish melodies and the Italian Resistance during the Second World War. To help tell that epic story of defiance, the album incorporates poems by the great Italian writer and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini and the wartime poet Alfonso Gatto. The title track, an intense rendition of the partisan anthem “Bella Ciao,” has been an international symbol of resistance for seventy years and is re-imagined here for a new generation.
For the past decade, Barbez has performed across the United States and Europe including engagements at UCLA’s Royce Hall in Los Angeles (sharing the bill with the MC5 and Sun Ra Arkestra), the Festival Territoria in Moscow, Russia, and the Museum of Jewish Art and History in Paris, France. Over its history, Barbez has collaborated with a diverse group of musicians including Dawn McCarthy of Faun Fables, the cellist Julia Kent of Antony and the Johnsons, and the singer and guitarist Nils Frykdahl of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. The group has also been privileged to perform with a wide variety of groups including Cat Power, Devendra Banhart, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and the Angels of Light, among many others.
Barbez maintains a long-running collaboration with the experimental theatre director, filmmaker, and playwright, John Jesurun, a MacArthur “genius” grant winner, and have composed and performed scores for several of Jesurun’s theatrical works, which have been staged at the Berliner Festspiele, in Berlin, Germany and the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Art in New York. Jesurun, who directed the renowned “Last Goodbye” video for Jeff Buckley, has directed two videos for the band from their Paul Celan-inspired record, Force of Light. Barbez has also contributed music for several dance works, including One and The Making of Americans, both choreographed by the Bessie-award winner Juliette Mapp and presented, respectively, by Danspace Project and Dance Theatre Workshop in New York.
Barbez is made up of the following members: Dan Kaufman (Rebecca Moore, Shelley Hirsch) guitar, Pamelia Kurstin (David Byrne, Cibo Matto) theremin, Peter Hess (Balkan Beat Box) clarinet, Danny Tunick (The Clean, Bang on a Can All-Stars) marimba, vibraphone, Catherine McRae (Sam Green, the Quavers) violin, Peter Lettre (Shearwater) bass, and John Bollinger (Sway Machinery) drums.
“Force of Light is among most profound settings for poetry in music…[it] is among the best of the year; it is sophisticated yet accessible to anyone, heartbreaking in its articulation…”–Allmusic.com (5 stars)
“The music of Barbez conjures an imaginary place full of narrow, crooked streets that are paved with ancient, damp cobblestones. The Brooklyn-based ensemble looks to Eastern Europe for inspiration and its expansive rock draws on such composers as Brecht, Schnittke, and Satie. But Barbez is firmly lodged in the present. It employs electronic elements, such as the theremin (played by the virtuoso Pamelia Kurstin) and its original compositions, written mostly by the guitarist and band leader Dan Kaufman, capture the angst, joy, and strangeness of life in the twenty-first century.” The New Yorker
“Barbez provide a pitch-perfect soundtrack to the intelligentsia identity crisis.”–Pitchfork Media
“A truly incomparable listening experience.” –Uncut
“The most musically adventurous of the blooming “ethno-punk-cabaret” movement.”–The Washington Post
“Barbez is one of my favorite bands.”–Bob Moog
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