Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The NY Gypsy Festival Closes Summerstage With a Blast of Sound

Year after year, the NY Gypsy Festival remains one of New York’s most consistently exciting concert series. There are four shows remaining, all of them at Drom: flamenco band Espiritu Gitano on the 30th; eclectic world dance group Delhi 2 Dublin on October 1; ferocious Balkan brass with Veveritse Brass Band and Zlatne Uste on the 2nd, and the Django Reinhardt tribute on the 3rd with Stephane Wrembel and Balval. A festival pass is $32, which translates to $8 a show, or about six bucks a band. But a vastly more persuasive enticement for prospective concertgoers was put on display Sunday at Central Park, with upbeat and often deliriously fun performances by a global cast including Yuri Yunakov, Tecsoi Banda, the NY Gypsy All-Stars and Mahala Rai Banda.

Yunakov hails from Bulgaria, where he famously collaborated with the legendary Ivo Papasov. Wedding gigs there got out of hand when literally thousands of people would crash the party to see them. Running his alto sax through a glistening veneer of reverb and delay, his tone was so close to a string synthesizer at times that it was hard to differentiate between him and his two keyboardists. But when he’d light into a casually frenetic solo riddled with lightning, chromatic doublestops, there was no doubt it was him. In fact, everyone in the band made it look easy, including his sparring partner, clarinetist Salaedin Mamudoski and also his percussionist, who kept a smoothly sputtering clatter going throughout the set, adding a hypnotic edge. Chanteuse Gamze Ordule joined them as they introduced her with a tongue-in-cheek striptease theme and added a bracing, throaty insistence as she swayed and undulated out front. One of her vocal numbers bounced along on almost a reggae bassline; another was a punchy, cocek-style dance. For all the ominous, brooding minor keys and bracing chromatics, it was a party, as the growing line of dancers to the left of the stage made absolutely clear.

Tecsoi Banda had made their North American debut the night before at the Ukrainian National Home, but they hit the stage ready to party again. Like American blues musicians of the 1920s and 30s, they’re all-purpose entertainers. They’ll do a Russian Orthodox wedding, a Jewish one, it doesn’t matter: they’re sort of the ultimate Ukrainian roots band. With Joska Chernavets on accordion, Ivan Popovych on fiddle, Vassili Gudak sadly pretty much inaudible on his tsymbaly (a kanun-style hammered dulcimer), bass drum player/singer Juri Chernavets with his little plastic mouth flute that he’d occasionally squawk on like a Jamaican with a whistle at a reggae show, and American klezmer fiddler Bob Cohen sitting in and adding a brisk intensity, they ran through a mix of upbeat and more stately material. As far removed from Ireland and Appalachia as their music is, there were familiar licks and melodies that wouldn’t be out of place in an Irish reel or a bluegrass breakdown. They used a lot of dynamics, varying their tempos, going doublespeed and then back again. Their best numbers had a somber, minor-key klezmer tinge; they closed with a couple of scurrying Carpathian dances, the second one finally featuring a funny solo from the drummer’s mouth flute.

The NY Gypsy All-Stars had the most modern sound, which ironically gave them the most authenticity of any of the acts on the bill: their fusion-tinged bounce is the one you’ll find in clubs all the way around the Black Sea. Compounding the irony is that they kept it very terse: Jason Lindner’s electric piano and Pangeotis Andreou’s five-string electric bass never took it to Jaco-land. Frontman/clarinetist Ismail Lumanovski is one of this era’s giants of the instrument – check him out sometimes with the Grneta Duo +1 with Vasko Dukovski and intense pianist Alexandra Joan for his more austere, purist side. Like Yunakov, he has blistering speed, but he doesn’t make it look easy: there’s an untamed, feral side to his playing that contrasted well with guest Selim Sesler (a frequent sparring partner). Sesler may be known as the Coltrane of the clarinet but his style is closer to vintage Lee Konitz, or for that matter, Miles Davis, and he chose his spots to cut loose against Lumanovski’s barrages. The rapidfire rivulets flowing from Tamer Pinarbasi’s kanun added yet another layer of turbulence, a very good thing considering the slick sonics.

By the time the headliners, Mahala Rai Banda (which in Roma, the gypsy language, means “hot ghetto band”) hit the stage, the occasional drizzle had subsided and the arena was clearly filled to capacity, most everyone dancing. The eleven-piece Romanian brass orchestra may play traditional instruments, but their vibe is pure gypsy punk (Gogol Bordello, naturally) with a frequent ska beat and the occasional hint of reggae or hip-hop. And with all those horns, the sound is titanic: they use them the way Gogol Bordello use guitar, at full volume. Accordionist Florinel Ionita is their lead player, blasting through one supersonic, microtonal riff after another, Peter Stan style, with the pulse of the tuba and the drum skulking behind the horns’ chromatic assault. They even did a song with an oldschool disco beat – for whatever reason, the crowd decided that was the time to pelt the band with the cheap foam rubber frisbees that were being handed out (BAD idea). Another hitched an oldschool American soul feel to a dancehall reggae interlude. But the best was what they started with, three blistering, anthemic minor-key numbers that shifted tempo suddenly, hitting the crowd with a trick ending and then restarting when least expected. They ran out the clock until their last second of stage time with a long series of outros: the crowd wanted more but didn’t get them, sending this year’s Summerstage series out on a deliriously high note.

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September 28, 2010 Posted by | concert, folk music, gypsy music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Turkish Woodstock II, 7/3/10

Last year’s “Turkish Woodstock” was sold out practically before the show started: if you include the thousands who couldn’t get inside New York’s Central Park Summerstage arena, a safe guess is that there were about 20,000 people milling about. This year’s “Turkish Woodstock II” a.k.a. Istanbulive didn’t appear to reach peak capacity until well after 4 PM. Both 2009 and 2010 shows blended east and west, although the segues last year (the NY Gypsy All-Stars, clarinet legend Husnu Senlendirici, Painted on Water and MFO, with a cameo from the Brooklyn Funk Essentials) were more seamless. But this year’s still made for a good, eclectic bill. The concert began with a single foreboding, somewhat funereal traditional song by Emrah Kanisicak, backed by oud, percussion, bass, drums and accordion. Chanteuse Sukriye Tutkun then took over centerstage. She has a lovely voice, exemplary range and a completely casual, warmly familiar stage presence. It was as if she was singing in her living room (ok, not her living room, but maybe from her fire escape – it was a brutally hot afternoon). Calmly and methodically, she ran through a selection of understated, Middle Eastern-tinged ballads and a slinky pop song that evoked Henry Mancini. The songs were all seemingly Mancini-era: the crowd knew most of them; a few sang along.

Ilhan Ersahin’s Istanbul Sessions – Ersahin on tenor sax, Alp Ersonmez on electric bass, Turgut Bekoglu on drums and Izzet Kizil on percussion were next, a short, rewarding day’s journey into night. Ersahin, impresario of well-loved East Village jazz oasis Nublu – is at his best when he mines a nocturnal vibe, and he worked his way down. He’s all about melody – it wasn’t til the third song of his set that he worked any kind of ornamentation, in this case an evil little trill, into his playing. Ersonmez matched him, sometimes pedaling a note or, occasionally, a chord, for what felt like minutes on end while the percussion clattered hypnotically and Ersahin scoped out the territory. Chipper and cheery, he worked permutations on a series of catchy hooks much like JD Allen will do, keeping each piece to a comfortable four minutes or so. They got better and better as they went along, Ersahin introducing a sly, late-night, understatedly simple bluesy tinge. Ersonmez introduced one with a fast percussive line that mimicked an oud while Ersahin ran circles around a bouncy spy theme, followed by a trance-inducing percussion solo. They went out on a joyous note with the reggae-tinged Freedom, pulsing along with a wickedly catchy three-chord chorus. Anyone who misses the late, great Moisturizer should discover Ersahin: he has the same irrepressible, irresistibly playful sensibility.

By the time moody rock quartet Duman – Turkish for “smoke” – took the stage, the arena looked close to capacity. They got a lot more singalongs than Tutkun – the young crowd, restless to this point, were suddenly one with the music. Turkish lyrics aside, Duman have the same memorable jangly and sometimes chromatically tinged sound that’s been all the rage in Latin America since the days of popular Mexican rockers Caifanes. Add some terse Johnny Marr cross-string guitar work, with just a hint of surf, or sometimes riff-driven garage rock, and that’s their terrain. What was most impressive was that despite their monochrome sound, all the songs didn’t sound the same: Duman are not boring. One anthem began almost ghostly before its chorus exploded out of nowhere; another sounded like the Smiths’ What Difference Does It Make, through a glass darkly. Brooding verses gave way to upbeat, hook-driven choruses, and vice versa. The band’s two guitarists traded a few solos, including one that they might have learned back in the day when they might have been playing Hotel California for their friends. There was another act scheduled to play afterward, but with a completely different demographic and a pop feel as different from this as Ersahin, and Tutkun before him, had been.

July 7, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Ansambl Mastika at Shrine, NYC 11/21/09

Ansambl Mastika call themselves the “new Balkan uproar.” What they do is definitely new and different, they are indelibly Balkan (although they range a lot further, usually toward the east) and what they play could understatedly be called an uproar. They’re one of New York’s best bands in any style of music, and they reaffirmed that uptown on Saturday night.

Since the Europeans didn’t invent jazz, they took to fusion a lot more readily than Americans did, and unfortunately some of fusion’s most annoying attributes – cheesy settings, garish solos and a complete lack of communication between musicians – still haunt a lot of music coming out of the former Eastern Bloc. Ansambl Mastika are an antidote to that. While they use electric guitar and bass along with rhythms that veer from gypsy to jazz to rock, the chemistry between the band members was characteristically playful and gripping. Nobody stepped on anybody, there was all kinds of interplay and it was obvious that this crew has a blast playing together. Which they should. Bandleader/reedman Greg Squared (who also plays in seemingly half the good Balkan-inflected bands in town, notably Raya Brass Band) was in his usual high-intensity mode, firing off blistering clusters of chromatics on both clarinet and sax. Bassist Ruben Radding (also of Zagnut Cirkus Orkestar and several jazz projects) felt the room, holding down a fat groove with an understatement that made his infrequent chords and slides all the more intense. This time out the group were in a particularly Greek/Macedonian mood, their leader taking a vocal on a handful of numbers.

They opened as a lot of gypsy bands do with what was basically a one-chord jam that gave their trumpeter a chance to cut loose with an ominous, chromatically-charged abandon. Accordion took centerstage on the next number as its introductory Greek waltz took a bitter, Middle Eastern-infused riff down to the lower registers, clarinet fueling the fire. The next looked like it was going to go totally fusion a la what the NY Gypsy All-Stars fall prey to sometimes, but it didn’t when the guitar and accordion turned it over to the horns, and then the guitar kicked in using almost a Fender Rhodes tone. After flailing around with some tricky time changes the band brought it back with a snarling, 4/4 stomp. The other tunes included a stripped-down, rustic, Macedonian-flavored number with the drummer on a standup bass drum and a wildly slinky, chromatic ride to the depths of the Adriatic on the wings of a long, triumphant trumpet solo where the guitar took over and then proceeded to make dark, unexpected janglerock out of it. They wrapped up the set with another Greek tune with a Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood feel on the chorus, incisively bluesy guitar teleporting to the Sahara in a split second. And then it was over. If you wish you’d been at  this one, Ansambl Mastika play Drom at 9 on Dec 11 on an excellent doublebill with Ethiopian jazz group the Debo Band.

November 26, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

So, Nu, You Wanna See a Movie?

With the current gypsy music craze, interest in klezmer – which had become something of a cult subgenre again since its big resurgence in the late 80s – has picked up, which is a good thing. It could be said that klezmer is Jewish gypsy music, the two styles sharing a lot of the same eerie Middle Eastern inflected tonalities and bouncy dance rhythms. Tonight at the famous, recently reopened synagogue at the base of Eldridge Street, Metropolitan Klezmer reminded why they’re one of the foremost groups in the current wave of klezmer revivalists. But they didn’t do it with the party music. Instead, bandleader/drummer Eve Sicular – who’s also a film historian – assembled a program of incidental and theme music from Yiddish film from the 1930s and 40s, from both the US and the Soviet Union (hard to believe, in the land of so many massacres, but as Sicular explained it there was actually an official Soviet Yiddish theatre company in the years before World War II!). The band interpolated their songs – a mix of instrumentals and vocal numbers – between movie clips which played on a screen on the left side of the gorgeously renovated synagogue.

They opened with two wedding tunes, both with slow, strikingly mournful introductions before the drums kicked in and they picked up the pace. To Sicular’s immense credit, even though she’d brought a full kit, she felt the space and played with a light touch that resonated throughout the synagogue’s beautiful acoustics while letting the rest of the band cut through. The way the musicians were set up created an intriguing if completely unintentional stereo effect, the wind instruments (clarinet, trumpet and trombone) with the drums front and center, with violin, bass and accordion (the lightning-fast Ismail Butera, from the exhilarating retro East African group Sounds of Taraab) panned right. Trumpeter Pam Fleming, as usual, stole the night with one of her signature solos, pulling a crescendo out of thin air. The crowd burst into applause before she was done.

Since the synagogue has been reopened under the auspices of Orthodox Judaism, lead vocalist Debby Karpel was replaced for this show by three male singers who took turns fronting the band: two baritones and then a tenor who was responsible for the Molly Picon songs (from her legendary roles in Yiddle Mitn Fiddle and Mamale). Ironically, this was a better fit than one would imagine, as the role the pioneering comedienne/actress/athlete (she swung on the trapeze) played in Yiddle Mitn Fiddle was that of a girl violinist who dresses as a man so she can tour with a band and be a star.

They closed with an original, a song that ought to be covered by Chicha Libre. Written by their usual trombonist Rick Faulkner, it had a bouncy, Peruvian cumbia rhythm. But Sicular picked it up by the tail and swung it around, punching it along on a 50s jazz beat – four-and-ONE, two-and-THREE – with a steady barrage of rimshots. It was a well-chosen way to end a night of otherwise rather haunting, ominously captivating material. Metropolitan Klezmer play the sixth night of Passover at Drom at 7:30 PM on April 24, opening for the highly regarded New York Gypsy Allstars. If the headliner is anything like the opening act, it should be a spectacularly good double bill.

And the space – now known as the Museum at Eldridge Street – has been brought back from the dead, spectacularly. Ten years ago, it looked like a crack house both inside and out, with holes in the roof, rodents everywhere, the aisles littered with debris. Now, the magnificent front window with all its many stars has been restored, the walls gleam and the beautiful, late 1800s woodwork is all renovated: for the many thousand descendants of those who passed through this neighborhood eighty or a hundred years ago, a tour could be a spiritual experience.

April 10, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments