Concert Review: Fishtank Ensemble at BAM Cafe, Brooklyn NY 1/9/10
Saturday night at BAM Cafe, Bay area gypsy music innovators Fishtank Ensemble brought the intensity to redline in seconds flat and kept it there for the duration of the show. Their cd Samurai Over Serbia (which received a rave review here and a spot on our 50 best albums of 2009 list) more than hinted that this would be the case, and the five-piece group didn’t disappoint. As expected, frontwoman Ursula Knudson seized the moment and led the charge, whether playing violin, using every octave of her vocal range or playing eerie washes of sound on her singing saw. Their first number, a fiery original titled Espagnolette saw her wind up her saw solo with some wild, stratospheric vocalese. With its tricky time signature, the Romanian gypsy song Shalaiman gave her another chance to go airborne and operatic, followed by a lightning, chromatically-fueled solo by accordionist Dan Cantrell.
A flamenco number saw guitarist Douglas Smolens introduce it with some strikingly terse, direct phrasing, which he’d return to with just a touch more firepower when it came time for him to solo as the band snapped their fingers in unison – and then Knudson went on the mic and brought the whirlwind intensity back. On the oldtimey blues staple After You’re Gone, she switched to banjo ukelele and gave it a winsome Blossom Dearie style treatment, after which upright bassist Djordje Stijepovic took an ostentatiously dexterous, amusing rockabilly solo, smacking the bass around as much as he was actually playing it. The group also scampered through a noir cabaret number featuring Knudson on violin, a gypsy dance written by Stijepovic bristling with unexpected dynamic shifts, a breezy take on the Transylvanian gypsy standard Chika Chika, and a playfully gypsified cover of Ring of Fire that Knudson sat out. It was too slow for her, she said – and then the band took it seemingly quadruplespeed at the end. The impressively diverse crowd, a mix of locals and fans from the burgeoning New York gypsy scene, were stunned. Watch this space for return NYC dates.
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