Wickedly eclectic Canadian instrumentalists the Sultans of String play a cosmopolitan, global take on acoustic string band music. Informed by the flamenco and Romany traditions but not reverential to them; they cast a wider, more diverse net than the Gipsy Kings. Fans of the more expansive side of Balkan music also ought to check them out. They’re at Joe’s Pub on Dec 6 at 9 PM; tix are $20.
Their latest album, Symphony!, finds the groupl ensemble bolstered by a massive orchestra. With such lush sonics, much of the album has a gentle, even lullaby feel to it – some people may hear this and think Pink Martini, but even if the music can be pillowy and soft around the edges in places, there’s no denying how solid and tasteful the playing and arrangements are. And the explosiveness of the louder parts makes the contrast all the more powerful. The opening track, Monti’s Revenge, has them doing with strings what Fanfare Ciocarlia does with brass – with droll breaks for horns and whistling as the bass walks frantically, all the way up to a titanic conclusion. Palmas Sinfonia makes elegant flamenco chamber-jazz out of a sweeping chart that has the guitar trading riffs with an entire string section, building slowly to a whirlwind and then some unexpected funkiness.
Josie is dreamy and lush, with Celtic tinges, incisive oboe and flute sailing over a dreamy backdrop. Emerald Swing attempts to make Romany jazz out of an Irish waltz, while Sable Island works an evocative, vividly wistful Acadian theme, with some unexpectedly Gilmouresque electric guitar and uillean pipes. They follow that with A Place to Call Home, which they manage to make both more lush and more bouncy. And just when you might think these guys are on the road to Vegas, they hit the Road to Kfamishki, a fiery, oud-fueled levantine masterpiece that’s the best track on the album – fueled by Bassam Bishara ‘s oud, it could have gone twice as long and wouldn’t be boring.
Luna brings back a clever, wryly humorous trajectory from Acadian folk to a tongue-in-cheek latin vamp. The album ends with the flamenco-folk Encuentros, a gentle knockout with its haunting changes on the turnaround out of the verse, probably the best approximation here of what this band sounds like live.