Updated Mon, Mar 26, 2012 9:31 am
The Front Room stage was packed to capacity on Feb. 2.
All six members of Columbus, Ohio, band Maza Blaska managed to fit not only themselves, but over a dozen instruments onstage in Baker Center's coffeehouse.
Featuring two guitars, bass, a mandolin, and countless percussion instruments, they pack enough musical gear to outfit several smaller groups.
However, the band makes the most of their exotic miniature orchestra.
To use a food analogy, Maza Blaska sounds like a musical casserole. The individual elements vary, you may not be able to identify some ingredients, and the whole thing is cooked up together. The end result is appealingly straightforward, yet complex; unique, yet immediately familiar.
The band opened their set with “Mississippi,” a song with a bit of an Eastern feel, some bluegrass inflections and a driving rock undercurrent. This blend of genres is characteristic of Maza Blaska. Defining their style is tricky, even for the band itself.
"It’s been kinda difficult I guess," laughed vocalist Sam Corlett, who also plays mandolin and glockenspiel.
The band's consensus is that they play pop music, but that label isn’t perfect. "I don’t even know what (pop music) is," she said.
"I think the songs are kind of structured in a standard way," said guitarist/vocalist Yoni Mizrachi. "There’s a verse, chorus, verse. Everything’s pretty structured."
What sets Maza Blaska apart is the global scope of their influences.
"We’ve also said gypsy rock, just because we’ve had some world influences," said Corlett. "But I wouldn’t say we’re world music."
"We’ve had a floating line-up of random people," added drummer Jay Robertson. "Like gypsies."
The origins of the band are as transcontinental as their sound. Mizrachi made a six-track demo while living in Jerusalem.
"I really love rhythm, Latin percussion and Afro-pop music," he said. "I wanted to incorporate some of that stuff into standard pop-rock songs."
When he returned to Columbus, Mizrachi found his interest in crossing musical cultures was shared.
"I got a lot of feedback from pretty much everyone here. They really liked the demos, and when I got back, they wanted to do something. We just kinda pieced it together."
Mizrachi, Corlett and Robertson are joined by percussionist Curtis Cole, guitarist/vocalist Blake Miller and bassist Kyle Charles. Everyone seemed to already know one another from a variety of past experiences.
"We played in the same bands, just not at the same times," said Mizrachi.
The result of this collaboration can be heard on Maza Blaska's debut album Storyteller, which was produced by Ohio University Assistant Professor Eddie Ashworth and released last year. Next month, the band is scheduled to perform during a Columbus band showcase at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas.
Though they have carved their sound out of several very distinct traditions, Maza Blaska’s greatest strength is the way their many influences meld together in their music. The various styles blend together to create songs, which, while defying categorization, remain immediately accessible.
In the end, perhaps the best way to define Maza Blaska is to consider what they are doing; using conventional song structure in unconventional ways. By pulling sounds from all sorts of sources and packaging them in a standard structure, they challenge the listener to reconsider their own preconceptions of pop.
Visit Maza Blaska's Facebook page for more information.