Lucid Culture


Concert Review: Balval/The New York Gypsy All-Stars at Drom, NYC 9/25/08

The second night of the ongoing Gypsy Festival at Drom was just as good as the first, a real feat considering how good Baba Zula had been on Wednesday. Opening the evening this time were Parisian gypsy quintet Balval (meaning wind in Romanes, the gypsy language), lushly and romantically blending traditional sounds with cosmopolitan, musette-inflected ballads. Balval’s frontwoman, the absolutely charming Awena Burgess would introduce each number by succinctly summarizing what it was about. By the time the band had hit played their third song, two women had already been seduced after drinking hard with their seducers (the second being the poor girl’s father-in-law). In another later in the set, a woman asks her friend, “What did you do with your baby?”


“I threw it in the river and the fish ate him,” she replies.


They warmed up slowly, the crowd restless, clearly in the mood to party. Their guitarist, Andy York lookalike Daniel Mizrahi played sensational solos when given the chance, alternating between fluid terseness and unleashed, bluesy fire.The night’s single most amazing moment belonged to violinist Rosalie Hartog, firing off a fusillade of double-stops throughout an Olympian sprint down and then back up the scale.


When the band launched into their first dance tune, a darkly slinky number, the crowd was instantly electrified, clapping and swaying along, the space between the bar and the tables becoming an impromptu dancefloor. Their next one built slowly from a stately march spiced with violin, with a tastefully minimalist Riders on the Storm-ish guitar solo. Another fiery dance gave Burgess an a-capella spot while the band put down their instruments, whooping and hollering behind her. Then they brought up clarinetist Ismail Lumanovski (who’d also provided an amazing cameo the previous night) to guest for a song. From its first eerie notes, the chemistry between him and Hartog was visceral as he provided a somewhat macabre intro while bassist bowed a low note, another while they brought it down to just the drums. Percussionist Bachar Khalife (son of the great Lebanese composer and oud virtuoso Marcel Khalife) had joined them by now, taking a long, playfully idiosyncratic solo break, the band nonetheless managing to meet up with him quickly. When the band stopped for a few seconds, Hartog went wild with a solo, then went completely rubato in the middle of it, bringing it back expertly to the same lickety-split tempo and the race was on again. From there, they maintained the pace, slowing down only for a noir-ish cabaret number, bassist Benjamin Body stepping out darkly and tastefully, before wrapping up their hourlong set with one final, delirious dance tune.


The New York Gypsy All-Stars (the Drom house band) headlined, offer yet further documentation of what kind of strange, fascinating new elements are created when cultures collide. These guys are first and foremost a jazz group with busy electric bass and occasional electric keyboards, giving them something of a fusion feel. But their eclecticism conquers all: how many jazz bands can you dance to these days, anyway? With a Puerto Rican drummer, Greek bassist, American keyboardist, Macedonian percussionist and his compatriot Lumanovski out in front, they put a virtuosically energetic, cleverly improvisational spin on traditional Balkan and gypsy sounds. Given his first solo of the night, pianist Jason Lindner immediately went straight for another continent, straight into salsa. Bassist Panagiotis Andreou played more notes than a bass player usually can but usually managed to avoid sound fussy, frequently echoing Lumanovski’s crystal-clear, impeccably precise, incisively haunting lines. Their best song of the night was an uncharacteristically slow tune. “Imagine the person you love,” Lumanovski suggested.


“Are you missing someone?” a laughing voice asked from the bar. Apparently so: the longing and anguish as he wound up a long solo at the end packed a knockout punch. Then it was back to the frenetic, percussive dance material. As good as they were, they sound even more sensational when they have their innovative kanun (zither) player with them. This was a high-energy, viscerally fun way to close the second night of the festival. Tonight’s (Friday’s) show features guitarist Goran Ivanovic’s group Eastern Bloc and then Turkish pan-Balkan wildmen Mames Babaganoush. The Gypsy All-Stars play here frequently; if you wish you’d seen Balval, they’re doing two dates, tonight and tomorrow at 8 at Café 50 West at 50 W 22nd St. before presumably departing for Paris.

September 26, 2008 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews

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