Gypsophilia Sets the Rockwood on Fire
If anybody at the Rockwood Tuesday night had any hope of seeing a sedate, relaxing show, that hope was dashed by the time Gypsophilia launched into third number. Because of the French connection, gypsy jazz is big in Canada and not just in Quebec. Gypsophilia hail from the impressively eclectic musical hotbed of Halifax and played an exhilarating set that transcended the limitations of the genre: it wasn’t anything closely resembling by-the-book Django covers. Their first jauntily shuffling couple of tunes only hinted at the wildness to come, trumpeter Matt Myer, violinist Gina Burgess – who is this band’s not-so-secret weapon – and fast, fluid electric guitarist Alec Frith trading tastefully edgy solos. Then they switched it up with a song introduced by guitarist Ross Burns as “Jewish party music,” and that it was, stately and suspenseful like a hora until it took flight on the wings of Burgess’ soaring chromatics, Burns leaping from the stage and breakdancing in front of the audience as the band turned it into ska. They followed that with a plaintive, wistful minor-key ballad by Burns set at the corner of Agricola and Sarah Streets in Halifax (north and just down the hill from the Halifax Common – there’s a pizza place there that’s reputedly excellent) on a snowy evening, two lovers deciding whether to part or go off together. Frith took the opportunity to reach back for some extra poignancy as Burns and second rhythm guitarist Nick Wilkinson held the sadness in check, then handing it over elegantly to the trumpet.
They got the crowd clapping along for the rest of the night with suspenseful, rubato interludes fueled by Adam Fine’s bass bowing, hi-de-ho gypsy taqsims, endless handoffs between soloists as the energy went higher and higher. “The violin just kicked the trumpet’s ass,” laughed the doorman: maybe he didn’t realize that was intentional, simply one step closer to pure ecstasy. An unexpectedly funky tune by Fine inspired by hearing a Kool & the Gang song blasting from a passing van featured a sweet trumpet solo and Burns playing along, tongue-in-cheek, on triangle. He switched to a hand drum that he rubbed for an amazingly melodic solo on a Super Bowl song that went on and on, biting minor keys alternated with unabashed buffoonery. They closed with a rugby song based on a hymn, reinvented as gypsy jazz. They’ve got chops to rival their imagination and are currently on US tour: if gypsy jazz is your thing and they’re coming to your town, don’t miss them.