Lush Eclectic Cosmopolitan Gypsy Sounds from Quadro Nuevo
Quadro Nuevo are huge in Europe. They have a new album out, Grand Voyage, recorded between stops around the world on what seems to be an endless tour. What they play defies categorization. Is it gypsy jazz? Much of it, yes. Is it nuevo tango? Some of it. Is it Middle Eastern music? Occasionally.The eclectic band’s central instrument is Andreas Hinterseher’s accordion (and sometimes bandoneon), which lends a gypsy or tango flavor to the rest of the stuff – and there is a lot of it, eighteen tracks’ worth. The rest of the band are a diverse cast; bandleader Mulo Francel switches between saxes and clarinet, and occasionally contributes bouzouki or guitar. Concert harpist Evelyn Huber artfully employs voicings from other instruments; one moment she can sound like a cimbalom or an oud, a second later she’s playing a guitar line. Bassist D.D. Lowka also plays percussion, xylophone and cimbalom as well. The album has a sad historical significance, as it includes the last recordings of guitarist Robert Wolf, who was paralyzed in an accident in 2008.
The opening tune might technically be a bolero, but at heart it’s a ridiculously catchy ska song – just when Lowka’s cimbalom is about to raise the lushness factor to completely hypnotic, the harp signals a return of the melody and then they’re off skanking again. The second track, a samba swing tune, is a letdown – it sounds like something out of the Pink Martini catalog. But then they get back on the good foot with a charming boudoir jazz version of the 1930s Mexican pop standard Cien Anos; it’s like a Las Rubias Del Norte instrumental.
Dark, majestic and neoromantic with central Asian tinges, Krim was recorded in a onetime sultan’s palace in the Ukraine. Samba Parapente, recorded in Corsica, takes on a spiky gypsy jazz edge, followed by Hinterseher’s gypsy jazz lullaby Aus der Stille der Nacht. They reinvent Nature Boy as a jaunty tango driven by guest William Galison’s harmonica, and a suspensefully bubbly guitar solo from Wolf before going off into free jazz territory for a bit.
Die Abenteurer evokes Doris Fisher’s bittersweet torch jazz classic Whispering Grass, contrasting with Lethe, a nebulous, misterioso waltz by Wolf. The pensive Antakya maintains a misty unease, shifting from echoes of Anatolian folk to flurrying gypsy jazz.
They follow that with a couple of tangos, one upbeat and full of delicious harp, accordion and sax solos and the other a balmy nocturne recorded late at night in Kuala Lumpur. Mosaique Tunisienne, a triptych, follows a rising arc from morning to night on the wings of Huber’s eclectic harp interludes set against pensive accordion and insistent, rat-a-tat goblet drumming. The most hardcore gypsy number here is Goaz Boq Musik, inspired by jamming with Transylvanian gypsies. The album ends with a warmly enveloping nocturne and then a full orchestral reprise of the ska song that opened the album. Recorded live in concert in 2010 with the NDR Radio Symphony Orchestra, it’s a radical piece of music, and everybody has a blast with it: in its towering, epic way, it’s ska-punk like you’ve never imagined. Count this as one of the most beguiling and consistently interesting albums of 2012, out now from Quebecois label Justin Time.