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Category: gypsy jazz

A Welcome Return From Obscurity by a New York Romany Jazz Outfit

For many years before the 2020 lockdown, the music school around the corner from St. Marks Park in the East Village put on a weekly series of free lunchtime concerts in front of the church just west of Second Avenue. These ran the gamut from jazz, to klezmer and various styles from the tropics. Back in the early teens, you would see homeless people converging on the space, seemingly out of nowhere, right before the end of the show. That’s because the organizers frequently gave away cookies when the band finished up. The series has returned this year, and it’s very unlikely that there will be cookies for the final show there on July 28 at half past noon. But if you live or work in the neighborhood, you can catch a rare appearance by a group who’ve played there a few times, Gypsy Jazz Caravan.

This may be their first show since the lockdown – beyond an old Reverbnation page, you have to go to the Wayback Machine to find out much of anything about them. They play mostly originals in the time-honored Django Reinhardt tradition, plus a few covers like La Vie En Rose where their sense of humor comes through. This blog was in the house (or, more specifically, in the shade of a tree across the street) for an enjoyably purist, pretty low-key show they played there on a steamy June afternoon in 2016.

Violinist Rob Thomas, lead guitarist Marc Daine, rhythm guitarist Glenn Tosto and bassist Mike Weatherly’s four tracks on the Reverbnation page give you a good idea of what they’re about. With the first one, Bossa Roma. they underscore how effective it can be when you switch out a brisk shuffle beat for a slinky clave groove in order to transform a wistful Romany jazz melody. Their La Vie En Rose cover has some characteristically sly flourishes, while Le Musette de L’Arrogance, a sprightly, biting minor-key waltz, has Thomas doubling Daine’s melody line with a stark melismatic edge..

If you want more Gypsy Jazz Caravan, their 2006 album Pour Les Zazous is up at youtube. The songs are a lot more diverse than all the shredders in the Django cult typically play. One of the highlights among the shuffle tunes is the enigmatic Torment in A Minor; another is the bittersweetly strolling Do the Promenade. If you want a sentimental waltz, White Hotel is for you. The best song on it is Land of the Lonely, with Daine’s spiky leads and Thomas’ shivery intensity. If you miss Stephane Wrembel’s legendary residencies around town, this may be as good as it gets for that style of music right now in New York.

Klezmer Music For a Chinatown Street Fair and the Horror Show in Canada

One of New York’s most unusual and enjoyable street festivals is happening today in Chinatown. That neighborhood doesn’t have many, because pretty much every day is a street fair down there. This one is on Eldridge between Division and Canal, outside the Eldridge Street Synagogue. The music starts at noon with iconic klezmer trumpeter  Frank London‘s Klezmer Brass All Stars, followed by the  Klezmographers with violinist Eleonore Biezunski and tsimbl player Pete Rushefsky, and then flutist Chen Tao and his Melody of the Dragon  Chinese traditional ensemble playing lively, verdant pentatonic folk songs. This blog was in the house (or more accurately. under the eaves across the street) to catch their set here four years ago and it was a lot of fun.

The Klezmographers, who specialize in obscure Ukrainian klezmer repertoire, are also fun. The last time anyone from this blog was at one of Rushefsky’s shows, it was at a gig at the now-discontinued Friday night concert series at the American Folk Art Museum back in 2014. Memory is a little hazy on whether it was an actual Klezmographers gig, or Rushefsky with his flutist wife: that night turned out to be a pretty wild one.

Rushefsky put out a handful of records back in the zeros with his Ternkova Ensemble. The most recent album he appears on is Toronto group KlezFactor‘s new Songs From a Pandemic Winter, streaming at Bandcamp.

The first song is Mardi Gras Fever Dream, with Mike Anklewicz’s soaring tenor sax, Jarek Dabrowski’s chicken-scratch guitar, Paul Georgiou’s clip-clop hand drum and Ali Berkok’s roller-rink organ fueling a playfully surreal mashup of Balkan cumbia, New Orleans second-line jazz and Eastern European Jewish folk music.

Rushefsky’s somberly rippling tsimbl opens Lake Michigan Klezmer Fantasy, Anklewicz switching to clarinet alongside Kousha Nakhaei’s violin for this wistful theme: Canadians have had an awful lot to mourn lately. Third Wave Lockdown opens with a twisted sample of Fidel Jr. reading from his World Economic Forum handler Chrystia Freedland’s script. Then Graham Smith’s snappy bass kicks in, Anklewicz launches into a peppy clarinet tune, and Jarek Dabrowski channels David Gilmour at his most majestic. Just like the truckers, these guys aren’t going to let fascism get them down!

Nakhaei plays what sounds like a stark chinese erhu in the polyrhythmic Winter’s Groove, as the band shift from cumbia to a bit of what sounds like a bulgar dance, to dub reggae. Singer Melanie Gall brings somberness but also a soaring, hopeful vibe to a final waltz, Oyfn Veg Shteyt a Boym, a spare, vivid arrangement of a chilling parable of exile and improbable escape. In 2022, this song couldn’t be more relevant. May we all fare better than that withered tree in the Yiddish lyrics.

New Bojaira Bring Flamenco Jazz Drama and Mystery to Alphabet City

In Spain, a bojaira is an irrigation canal which originated in Moorish antiquity. New Bojaira play a kinetic, distinctively Spanish style of music which draws equally on flamenco and American jazz, with several latin sounds mixed in. Bandleader/pianist Jesus Hernández blends a resonant chordal attack with a keen sense of the blues. They’re bringing their dynamic show to Drom on May 26 at 7:30 PM; you can get in for $20 in advance. As a bonus, the arguably even fierier, Balkan-tinged New York Gypsy All-Stars play afterward at 9:30.

Like most New York bands, New Bojaira haven’t recorded an album since before the 2020 lockdown. Their most recent release Zorongo Blu came out in 2017 and is streaming at their music page.

How demonic is the opening number. El Demonio Llama a Mi Puerta (Soleá Blues)? Not particularly. Hernández shifts elegantly through a series of rhythms in tandem with bassist Tim Ferguson and drummer Mark Holen, guest Randy Brecker contributing a couple of spacious, thoughtful trumpet solos. In his impassioned, melismatic voice, singer Alfonso Cid pays tribute to the pleasures of the night.

Jaleos del Celoso Extremeño (hard to translate – “jealousy is a bitch,” more or less) is more rhythmically tricky and bustling, Peter Brainin contributing a couple of fanged, acidic solos on soprano sax. La Africana (Guajira) begins on the slow and intense side, Cid’s flute intertwining with Brainin’s smoky tenor sax for suspenseful, rather otherworldly harmonies, echoed by Hernández’s tantalizingly glittery lines a little later.

Ferguson opens Green Room with a slinky solo, Hernández swinging it with a catchy chordal punch: it’s a cabaret anthem without words. Farruca de Argel features flamenco star Sergio Gómez el Colorao weaving wintrily above the the artfully syncopated sway as Hernández edges further outside.

Brainin trills and sails through the group’s cover of Round Midnight, reinvented as a boomy bossa with an understatedly simmering piano solo and an incisive one from the bass. Cid offers a fervent invocation to open the album’s title track, Hernández fanning the flames with a spiraling, glistening solo.

Holen ices the atmosphere with his cymbals to open Ese Meneo (That Wiggle), the group working a tightly circling triplet groove over Hernández’s lingering chords as the song grows more wryly anthemic, in a Fats Waller vein.

No Encuentro Tu Pasión (meaning essentially “I can’t get to you”) is a rumba with loose-limbed bass and piano solos, and tastily chromatic, blustery flute. The album’s final cut is Vente Pa’ Broadway, Hernández’s immersive Rhodes piano contrasting with the ecstatic buleria rhythm. Global travel may be problematic right now but this band can transport you to a moonlit Granada of the mind.

A Sophisticated, Cleverly Lyrical, Climactic Studio Album From Paris Combo

Paris Combo take care to explain that their latest and possibly final album Quesaco – streaming at Bandcamp – is Covid-free. Notwithstanding the record’s characteristically slinky good cheer, there’s a tragic backstory. Like so many albums recorded in 2019, it was scheduled for release the following year. But their tour fell victim to the totalitarian takeover, and frontwoman/accordionist Belle de Berry died s that fall, soon after a cancer diagnosis. Would she be alive today if there had been no lockdown and she could have received early treatment? We’ll never know.

At least she went out at the top of her game. The band open with the album’s title track, Provençal slang for “what’s up?” It’s a lush, Balkan-tinged swing nocturne packed with cynical rhymes, beginning with a sun, who as du Berry tells it, doesn’t give a fuck about the approaching nightfall. It aptly capsulizes her indomitable, deviously playful worldview.

Paris Combo first took shape as a Romany-tinged swing band but quickly developed a distinctively upbeat, often witheringly satirical blend of sophisticated art-rock, jazz manouche and cinematic pop. Including this one, they put out a grand total of seven albums: all of them are worth getting your hands on.

The second track on this one is Barre Espace, du Berry’s gently caustic commentary on the atomization that inevigtably awaits those who abandon the real world for the virtual one. Bassist Benoît Dunoyer de Segonzac, drummer François Jeannin and percussionist Rémy Kaprielan lay down a pillowy. understated cumbia groove for pianist David Lewis and guitarist Potzi.

They stroll briskly through Seine de la vie parisienne, du Berry’s puns beginning with the title, Potzi taking a spiky, Djangoesque solo midway through. She reaches for a reggaeton-inspired delivery over Lewis’ organ and trumpet in Panic á bord (rough translation: Breaking Point), a bouncy but brooding Balkan/cumbia mashup.

Maudit money (Damn Money) is part hip-hop, part oldschool 70s disco, part Manu Chao, with a wry Nancy Sinatra reference. Du Berry holds off on the WWI references until the end of Premiére guerre as she contemplates a more psychological, interior battle, rising from balmy and lingering to a triumphant strut and then back.

Shivery strings and soaring trumpet interchange in Axe imaginaire (Imaginary Path, or close to it), a subtle battle-of-the-sexes metaphor. The band go back to a disco stroll in Cap ou pas cap (slang for “yes or no?”), Lewis’ trumpet sputtering and Potzi’s guitar spiraling over a sleek backdrop and du Berry’s coy enticement.

Guitar and trumpet reach for a simmering flamenco ambience over a suspenseful, cumbia-tinged groove in Tendre émoi (this one’s hard to translate: “tender confrontation” or “make a scene, tenderly” would work, prosaically). Du Berry takes a rare turn into English on track ten, Do you think, as the band go back to a bittersweet cumbia sway. They close the record with the low-key, reflective Romany swing shuffle Paresser par ici (rough translation: Hanging Around). Maybe someday if we’re lucky we can get a retrospective live album out of this fantastic and underappreciated band. And even if we don’t, this is one of the best of 2022 so far.

Aigua Put a Gorgeous, Poignant New Spin on Traditional Spanish Songs

Aigua play counteriutuitive Spanish folk tunes.

It’s always validating to hear a song and imagine the perfect way to drive a verse or chorus home…and then hear the band playing that riff exactly as you had envisioned it. The Spanish duo’s electrifying yet subtle new album Nonino – streaming at Bandcamp – is full of moments like that. One of them happens about a couple of minutes into the first song, where guitarist Joan Peiró Aznar caps off a verse with an elegant descent into a minor sixth chord that you have to imagine, since he doesn’t actually hit it.

Pure magic.

Meanwhile, melodeon player Lies Hendrix is way up in the mix, supplying a turbulent river of immersive multi-reed nectar.

That song, Decimes de la Mara Tierra is an antiwar tango. The duo follow that with a similarly plaintive instrumental, Bruidsmazurka, Aznar again delivering the coups de grace amid Henrix’s swaying rivers of sound.

This is typical of the duo’s update on Spanish folk music. On one hand, it can be stately and antique. On the other, their sizzling chops and attention to poignant detail give their material an immediacy that transcends its ancient origins or influences.

Aznar sings Les Dones de L’Almacen with an expressive, wistful intensity, Hendrix picking up the pace as the guitar shifts from insistent chords to a playful intertwine. The minimalistic melodeon-and-vocal arrangement of L’Estrela del Vetlatori also ramps up the bittersweetness. Then they pick up the pace with a spirited dance, Ja Ve L’Horabaixa, equally infused with flamenco and Belgian musette.

Aznar lurks in the background in Borreiada as the rhythms and atmosphere morph from tricky and enigmatic to a wryly jaunty hornpipe dance. The most disarmingly attractive song on the album is Illa del Sal, a bolero with an unexpectedly jazz-tinged guitar solo.

There’s a practically stern flamenco pulse to Fandango de Aiora. Delicate Genius is ridiculously funny and the most modern-sounding, Django Reinhardt-influenced track here.

The two musicians follow that with the cosmopolitan, shapeshifting grey-sky musette L’Amelanchier and close with the sober, low-key title track.

Sizzling Noir Swing in the Black Hills on the First of the Month

Back in 2018, Minneapolis band Miss Myra & the Moonshiners put out one of the most darkly electrifying oldtime swing albums of the century. The band’s lineup has shifted a bit since then, but they’re still ripping up stages across the northern United States. That record, Sunday Sinning, is still streaming at their music page, and the band have a gig on Oct 1 at 7 PM at the Monument, 444 Mt Rushmore Rd. in Rapid City, South Dakota. Cover is $27.50, but students get in for ten bucks less.

If the creepy, hi-de-ho side of swing is your thing, don’t blink on this record like this blog did the first time around. The group have the chutzpah to start it with their own theme song, Miss Myra leading the sinister romp with her voice and Django-inspired, briskly percussive guitar attack, lead guitarist Zane Fitzgerald Palmer and clarinetist Sam Skavnak spicing the the doomy ambience from trumpeter Bobby J Marks and trombonist Nathan Berry. Tuba player Isaac Heath provides a fat pulse with nimble color from drummer Angie Frisk.

They play Sheik of Araby with a hint of noir bolero on the intro, then they go scrambling with a hearty jump blues-style call-and-response between Myra and the guys. The Kaiser, an ominously steady klezmer swing tune, has bowed bass and a sinister bass clarinet solo from Skavnak before Palmer goes spiraling up into the clouds.

Likewise, Miss Myra’s creepy downward chromatics in Egyptian Ella, Skavnak’s clarinet front and center. Everybody Loves My Baby is brassier – five songs in, and we’re still in a minor key. Sunday Sinning (Palmer’s Bar) features a sizzling tradeoff from the clarinet to Palmer’s guitar solo. They close the record with the stomping, brisk Red Hot & Blue Rhythm – the only major-key song on the record – the ending screams out for audience participation. South Dakotans are obviously in for a treat on the first of the month.

A Sizzling New Romany Jazz Album by Marbin

Marbin are a Chicago institution, pushing the envelope as far as the infinite directions a band can go in using Django Reinhardt as a stepping-off point. Their new album Fernweh (German for “wanderlust”) is streaming at Bandcamp and interestingly is one of their more trad, Belleville-influenced efforts, without the diversions toward the Middle East and klezmer that they’ve taken throughout their career. As well-worn as this material is, these takes are fresh and relentlessly inspired. Fans of this era’s best Romany jazz artists, like Stephane Wrembel, will not be disappointed. The solos on this record are just plain off the hook.

They open with a lively, shuffling Romany jazz take of All of Me with some electrifyingly rapidfire, crystalline soprano sax cascades from Danny Markovitch. Guitarist Dani Rabin gives the trio’s version of Stardust a long, sparkling, solo intro, Markovitch providing elegantly glissando-spiced solos around the guitarist’s feathery break.

Their version of Dark Eyes is a brisk launching pad for Rabin’s supersonic, light-fingered volleys and a triumphant Markovitch soprano solo out. They do Georgia On My Mind as an uptempo shuffle with some sizzling tremolo-picking from Rabin and a clever, conversational outro.

Rabin alternates between sageness and ferocity, Markovitch offering more spine-tingling spirals in this version of Minor Swing. They slow down over bassist Jon Nadel’s steady, calm pulse for Nuages, Markovitch floating over Rabin’s dynamically textured multitracks.

Rabin can’t resist some wry Wes Montgomery in Honeysuckle Rose, Markovitch on alto and then soprano. He spins and sizzles in a subtly crescendoing interpretation of I’ll See You In My Dreams; likewise, Rabin slays with his subtly blues-infused solo

Markovitch’s shivery trills and Rabin’s wry popcorn-machine blips elevate Confessin’ above the level of cheese. They wind up the record with a bristling, bustling take of Swing Gitane. Despite the disastrous effects of the lockdown, there’s still been a ton of good original jazz coming out this year. Even so, this collection earns a spot on the list of best albums of the year.

Playful, Inventive, Outside-the-Box Romany-Inspired Jazz and Reinvented Classical Themes

Violinist Gabe Terracciano‘s album Three Part Invention – streaming at Bandcamp – is a lot of fun, with very inventive arrangements and ideas springboarding off a familiar three-piece Romany jazz setup: guitar, violin and bass. Guitarist Josh Dunn has his Django Reinhardt parts down cold but also gets to indulge in some nimble classical guitar and other styles while bassist Ian Hutchison holds the center, even when he’s in rapidfire mode.

Throughout the record, there are some welcome and unexpected interludes for solo bass, particularly in Dance for Jimmy a bluesy strut with less obvious Romany jazz influence and spare, surrealistically descending solos from guitar and violin

The most obvious Django Reinhardt/Stephane Grappelli influence is in the trio’s take of Crazy Rhythm. Violin and guitar double each other in the undulating but motoring Fleche D’Or, with some breathtakingly shivery violin work from Terracciano.

The piece de resistance here is the austerely airy, lingering, tantalizingly brief arrangement of Erik Satie’s iconically haunting Gymnopedie No. 3. They rename the famous baroque tune Invention No. 4 as “Beautiful Love,” moving from a rapid stroll to fugal exchanges between guitar and violin, Terracciano taking Bach to Belleville.

A lot of people have taken Beethoven’s Pathetique to new places; this one is a mashup of the baroque with distant Celtic tinges.

Terracciano switches to viola for a stark, spacious take of Alex North’s love theme from the 1960 movie Spartacus, leaving behind waltzing nostalgia for more incisive terrain and an all-too-brief, poignantly dancing bass-guitar interlude. And Sweet Chorus comes across as an emphatic, strolling take of Sweet Sue with biting violin and expansively chordal guitar.

Vividly Nuanced Rainy-Day Balkan Songs From Amira Medunjanin

Amira Medunjanin is a very subtle singer. The Bosnian chanteuse doesn’t overdo it: she draws you into her poignant Balkan songs. Her darkly thoughtful, jazz-tinged 2015 album Damar is streaming at Spotify.

The album’s first track, Pjevat Cemo Sta Nam Srce Zna (We’ll Sing What the Heart Knows) is a calmly syncopated, elegant blend of pensive minor-key Mitteleuropean folk and jazz. Likewise, Tvojte Oci Leno Mori is a spare, hushed, balletesque take on what could be a boisterous fiddle-driven Balkan dance.

Medunjanin’s quiet, loomingly plaintive vocals over moody cello and guitar as the rubato ballad Vjetar Nuzu Poloikuje gets underway transcends any linguistic limitation; then Bojan Zulfikarpašić’s slightly out-of-tune piano adds Chopinesque ripples to the mix

Delicate echo phrases from the acoustic guitars – Boško Jović and Ante Gelo -introduce the trickily rhythmic Romany song More Izgrejala Sjajna Mesecina (rough translation: Moonlight on the Ocean), livened by rippling piano over the nimble rhythm section (bassist Zvonimir Šestak and Zulfikarpašić doing double duty on percussion).

With its spare, fingerpicked guitar-and-vocal intro and a ringing Portuguese guitar solo midway through, Kad Ja Podoh Na Bentbasu has echoes of fado music. Medunjanin’s tenderly ornamented vocals mingle with spare, spacious, echoing piano in Moj Golube, Moj Golube (My Love, My Love).

Passion simmers but never quite spills over the edge of the pot in Moj Dilbere, a pulsingly suspenseful, chromatically charged Romany love song: Jenny Luna’s work with magical Turkish band Dolunay comes to mind. The album’s hypnotic, almost conspiratorial title cut has bolero, blues and surreal doubletracked piano and organ cached within its minimalist jazz pulse. Medunjanin saves her most impassioned, imploring vocal for the album’s final cut, Aj Sto Cemo Ljubav Kriti, over a pensive expanse of low-key flamenco-esque guitar.

Escape to Paris in the 1930s with Chloe Perrier

The point of chanteuse Chloe Perrier’s new album Petite Fleur, with her French Heart Jazz Band – streaming at Spotify – is that these are dark times, and she wants to give everyone a little escape to a better time and place. Les Deux Magots in the Quartier Latin, smoky and electric…but with sounds far more cross-pollinated than even the musical mecca that was prewar Paris could have conjured at the time.

Over the past couple of years, Perrier and the band have been playing a mix of classic chanson, Romany jazz and American standards, many of them reinvented with counterintuitive panache. Everything on the album has been thoroughly crowd-tested: until the lockdown, Perrier and the group maintained a tough schedule of club and hotel bar gigs. And even though this is an upbeat album, she’s never sung with more depth and gravitas than she does here.

The album’s opening track, Charles Trenet’s Menilmontant, is one that Perrier really excels with. This is a particularly bright, brisk version, with scurrying guitar from Akira Ishiguro and cheery clarinet by guest Jon Hunt over the scampering shuffle of bassist Jim Robertson and colorful drummer Rodrigo Recabarren. Perrier’s clear, unselfconscious, personable vocals are the icing on the cake.

She sings the old klezmer-jazz standard Comes Love in French, with a vivid wistfulness, over a syncopated, bouncy bolero beat, violinist Caroline Bugala adding cosmopolitan flair. The group revisit that milieu later on, in their version of Sway.

Perrier returns to the Trenet songbook for a relatively slow, swinging, Django-and-Stephane-tinged take of Que reste-t-il de nos amours and then follows that by reinventing Helen Merrill’s Just Squeeze Me as the coy Lorsque tu m’embrasses.

Then Perrier pays a jaunty visit to “le pays aux oiseaux” – you could do the same if the 44th Street club immortalized in the song hadn’t been shut down by Il Duce in Albany. She goes deep into the expat subtext of the old Josephine Baker hit J’ai deux amours over a steady shuffle, then she sings Coquette in English as the band leap and bound elegantly behind her.

Guilty, a knowingly enigmatic take on the big hit by British crooner Al Bowlly, was included on the soundtrack to the film Amélie. The inevitable version of La vie en rose here gets redone with a Djangoesque pulse, triumphant energy from Perrier and Bugala.

Ray Ventura’s Je voudrais en savoir d’avantage gets a verdant workout with sailing violin and guitar solos. Perrier and band close the record with an absolutely gorgeous, haunting bolero take of the Sidney Bechet-penned title track. Perrier’s going to cheer up a lot of people in her “deux amours,” on both sides of the pond, with this one.