Edgy Chromatics and Slinky, Otherworldly Sounds at This Year’s Greek Jewish Festival

by delarue

The most esoterically enticing concert of the year so far is tomorrow afternoon, May 15 outside a Chinatown synagogue. Not all the music at this year’s annual Greek Jewish Festival is either Greek or Jewish, but it sure is good. It’s a lineup worthy of Golden Fest, the festival of Balkan and Balkan-adjacent sounds which for the better part of forty years has been one of this city’s most deliriously entertaining annual events.

This somewhat smaller but auspicious lineup begins at noon with the bouncy Elias Ladino Ensemble, followed by the Greek American Folklore Society band, the Noga Group featuring oud sorcerer Avram Pengas, bellydancer Layla Isis, psychedelic oud-rocker Scott Wilson & Efendi and the stark, haunting Pontic Firebird (best bandname ever, right?) headlining at 5. The Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue and Museum, where all this takes place, is at 280 Broome St. between Allen and Eldridge; the closest train is the B/D to Grand St.

The last time this blog was in the house for one of Wilson’s shows, he was playing with an excellent Middle Eastern pickup band on the back of a flatbed trailer at the 2018 Atlantic Antic street fair. Before that, it was a lot of fun to catch his set with his somewhat harder-rocking, electric group Efendi the previous January in one of the side rooms at Golden Fest.

There’s a little bit of that show up at the recently resuscitated Free Music Archive available as a free download, along with a full set from four years earlier. That one is a tight mix of mostly well-known habibi dance standards from the 1950s and earlier. It’s not clear who’s in the band, but there’s a kanun rippling away, an electric guitar, percussion and what could be Wilson’s custom-made triple-necked axe which is part oud, part baglama and part saz. The recording quality is excellent, without much audience noise. Wilson hits the stage (or the sidewalk) tomorrow afternoon at four.