New York Music Daily

Love's the Only Engine of Survival

Category: gypsy music

Jeremiah Lockwood’s Gorgeous New All-Instrumental Album Takes Hanukah Music to the Next Level

Guitarist Jeremiah Lockwood‘s new solo acoustic instrumental album The Great Miracle – streaming at Bandcamp – is one of the most fascinatingly individualistic Hanukah records ever made. The leader of Malian and cantorially-inspired psychedelic rockers the Sway Machinery draws equally on his immersion in country blues as well as traditional Jewish music, for an often breathtakingly beautiful series of new versions of themes associated with the Festival of Lights.

He opens with the introspective Ritual, rising from a spacious intro to steady, spiky, rustic chords. It’s part cantorial melody, part Piedmont blues, part stately baroque theme.

Al Hanisim is an absolutely gorgeous, chromatically-spiced theme with shadowy echoes of Greek rembetiko music. Lockwood reinvents Mi Yamalel as a similarly celestial tableau with a cheery, strolling blues undercurrent. There’s more than a hint of flamenco, and Morricone, in the striking changes and tumbling Middle Eastern-tinged runs in Izhar Cohen’s Al Hanisim: it would make a great surf song.

Lockwood also follows a plaintive Spanish-tinged trajectory in Maoz Tzur, with some of the album’s most incisive fingerpicking. Little Dreydl is a change of pace, a ragtime attempt to rescue one of the season’s most cloying melodies from its usual home in the dairy fridge.

Drey Dreydl is the most bucolic, blues-infused track here, but it’s also a showcase for Lockwood’s skills as a picker. He closes the record with Chanuka Oy Chanuka – since it’s Hebrew, you can transliterate it any number of ways in English. It’s the most enigmatic, jazz-oriented number here, many times removed from its humble origins.

Could a Hanukah record ever make it to the best albums of the year list here? Stay tuned for when that page goes live next month!

Fire Up the Menorah, It’s Party Time With Sarah Aroeste

When it comes to year-end holiday music, there are no Chosen People. Everybody suffers. A cynic could say that at this time of year, we’re all Jews.

There isn’t quite the glut of cheesy Hanukah music that there is for Christmas, but beyond the joke songs and the reggae records, it’s usually pretty awful. That’s why it’s cool that singer Sarah Aroeste, one of the world’s great advocates for Ladino music, has released what she calls the first-ever all-Ladino Hanukah record, streaming at Bandcamp.

This is refreshingly edgy music, with flamenco, and Andalucian, and Middle Eastern influences, as you would expect from the Sephardic tradition. Aroeste has really gone deep into the repertoire and unearthed a playlist of material from past decades as well as past centuries. Aroeste’s vocals are also remarkably easy to sing along to: if you know Spanish, Ladino is a lot less challenging than, say, Yiddish or Hebrew.

And the band are killer. Who would have expected a biting, brass-fueled shamstep Hanukah song? Or for a Hanukah album to open with a sizzling oud taqsim? That’s Yaniv Taichman spiraling around before Aroeste raises her voice in celebration, with a melody that seems to owe more to the Holy Land than to anywhere in Europe.

Israeli crooner Shuky Shveiky sings and plays fierce flamenco guitar on a Gipsy Kings-style take of Ocho Kandelikas, one of the best-known Ladino Hanukah songs. The first of two Aroeste originals is the acoustic guitar-driven minor-key singalong Fiesta de Hanuka. The second, Vayehi Mikets is a bouncy number based on an ancient parody: in this version, Joseph is contemplating pastries rather than the raw materials that Pharaoh put him in charge of.

Aroeste duets with songwriter Gloria Joyce Ascher on a sly reggae version of her joyous Ya Viene Hanuká! The family-friendly take of Flory Jagoda’s Hanuka, Hanuka is closer to dhaanto than reggae – but, hey, Ethiopia and Eritrea are the original Jewish stomping ground.

There’s also a cheery classical guitar-and-vocal tune by contemporary Israeli Ladino poet Medi Koen-Malki; a soaring Ladino version of Ma’oz Tzur set to a stately melody by eighteenth century Venetian composer Benedetto Giacomo Marcello; and a version of Dak il Tas with some spiky santoor from Eitan Refua. You get some history and culture with this album too.

Rapidfire Pyrotechnics From an Iconic Balkan Brass Band

Fanfare Ciocarlia, the iconic brass band, have represented Romania perhaps better than anyone for the past two decades. And they have a new album, It Wasn’t Hard To Love You streaming at Bandcamp. Interestingly, as much as these guys can blast along on a dance tune for minutes on end, most of the songs here are pretty short. And there are a lot of them, a grand total of sixteen jams to get you dancing in minor keys.

They open with a joke, a deadpan brass band cover of Just the Two Of Us, Grover Washington Jr.’s 80s cheeseball smooth jazz hit: it’s pure punk rock. Then the group get down to business. Babo Never Worked a Day has a steady but understated dancefloor thud from drummers Paul Benedikt Stehlescu and Costel “Gisniaca” Ursu and tantalizingly serpentine solos from clarinetist Costel Oprica Ivancea and alto saxophonist Dan Ionel Ivancea.

The Hungarian Wild Bunch features rapidfire staccato trumpets over icepick baritone horns: that’s Costica “Cimai”Trifan, Paul Marian Bulgaru, Craciun Ovidiu Trifan and Lazar Radulescu on trumpets, Laurentiu Mihai Ivancea and Constantin “Sulo” Calin on baritone horns, Mihaita Sergiu Nastase and Vasile Stangaciu on helikon.

The brief and indomitably cheery Pannonicated Polka has vocals. A rough translation from the Romanian:

And when the evening
Turns into an everyday life full of tears
Our younger days are gone
But we barely noticed

Escape From Baltimore turns out to be made via the railroad tracks: gotta love that kettledrum. The lickety-split Song For Noga will take your breath away. The group slow down just a little for the catchy chromatic sway of Hobo Kolo and then go into circus rock bolero territory with The Trumpeter’s Lament.

First Aid Klezmer has clarinet front and center, as you might expect. There are wry classical flourishes in Porsche Polka and spine-tingling microtonal sax in Gypsy Mambo No. 555.

Red Moon has a mix of latin and Balkan flair, and a surprisingly plaintive trumpet solo, while Busbus is packed with all kinds of slyly orchestrated tradeoffs. Demon Dance, predictably, is a springboard for sabretoothed precision but also suspensefully wafting trumpet. Then the band go Cruzzzando El Campooo with hints of cumbia and dixieland.

The “digital bonus track” is Mosquito Swamp, where the horns are so liquid it’s almost as if they’re a giant accordion. It would be out of character for this band – and for this blog – if this wasn’t on the best albums of 2021 list at the end of the year.

The A.G.A. Trio Play Acerbic, Gorgeous, Austere Music For Accordion and Reeds

The A.G.A Trio‘s album Meeting – streaming at youtube – is an otherworldly, often haunting mix of windswept Near Eastern tableaux and lively, acerbic traditional dances. The group are a summit meeting of some of the region’s most individualistic musicians. Flutist Deniz Kartal represents for Anatolia; accordionist Mikail Yakut hails from the republic of Georgia, and duduk virtuoso Arsen Petrosyan is Armenian,

The first song is Erzumi Shoror, a slowly unwinding, plaintive melody. Kartal takes the first solo on kaval, joined for muted low harmonies by Petrosyan’s duduk, Yakut’s steady pulses pushing the song along. Then the two reedmen switch roles. The trio follow a similar, unhurried architecture throughout a handful of the record’s slower, more expressive numbers, most strikingly on the third track, which comes across as a more lively variation on this initial theme.

A sailing flute taqsim over a quiet accordion drone introduces Adayani Voghpe/Adana Agidi, then the trio join forces and follow a somber, stately trajectory. A brief, determined, trickily rhythmic circle dance serves as a bridge to a slightly longer Anatolian dance, Tamzara, with Kartal’s biting, trilling modal flute front and center.

Yakut has fun with the rapidfire triplets in a solo accordion version of another dance, Dzveku Kartuli Satsekvao. Petrosyan takes over the lead with his poignant, soulful ornamentation in the solemn Noubar-Noubar and Yare Vardu, by Leon Katerjian, followed by the mystical, enveloping traditional lament Siretsi Yars Taran.

Next there’s a trio of dances for kaval and accordion, and then duduk and accordion, spiced with Middle Eastern-tinged chromatics. Kartal trills and thrills, solo, through the bounding, spiraling dance Kara Koyun.

The group shift elegantly from a joyously edgy, Romany-tinged dance to gentle suspense in Victor Dolidze’s Kartuli Keto da Kote. They close the record with the moody chromatics of the traditional Patara Gogo, descending to a spacious, desolate duduk interlude. It’s hard to think of another recent album with as much understated, breathtaking beauty as this one.

Colorful, Upbeat Spanish and Romany Dance Sounds From Caamaño & Ameixeiras

Accordionist Sabela Caamaño and violinist Antía Ameixeiras‘ debut album Aire – streaming at Spotify – is a high-energy, edgy mix of traditional Spanish and Balkan dances and imaginative originals. The duo are occasionally bolstered by mandolin, bass clarinet and trumpet. Most of the themes here are instrumentals, with Ameixeiras occasionally taking a turn on vocals. The duo like long launching pads that rise to explosive crescendos.

They open with Florencio, a jaunty waltz, Ameixeiras’ soaring chords and shivery ornamentation over Caamaño’s alternately precise and lush accordion. They begin the second track, Mercedes y Dolores with a stark, chromatic Romany pulse, then morph it into a circle dance that reaches a wild peak.

Alegria Dio’la Dea, another waltz, is more boisterous – is that a theremin lurking way up in the clouds?

Ameixeiras sings the ballad Se Souberas with an expressive, melismatic Romany-influenced delivery, beginning hazily and rising to unexpected intensity on the wings of her vocal multitracks. Then the two women tackle the tricky Serbian rhythms and shapeshifting themes of Buchimitsa, Carola Ortiz’s bass clarinet lurking on the perimeter.

They return to 3/4 time for La Bal de la Marine, moving between a brooding bolero melody and brighter, musette-esque terrain. The album’s high point is the bracing, Andalucian-tinged waltz Maneo de Cambre, Ameixeiras taking a moody turn on vocals and then trading allusive, plaintive solos with Ortiz’s clarinet.

Maribel is a good segue, a biting, incisively strolling minor-key bounce. True to its title, Transatlantico has a blend of cosmopolitan nuevo tango, bluesy and 80s funk-pop in rustic acoustic disguise, along with one of Caamaño’s most expressive solos.

Valse de Pasmar comes across as a wistful lullaby with more than a hint of dixieland, a droll intro and a cheery muted trumpet solo. The duo wind up the album with the title track, its enigmatic Eastern European harmonies and vocal inflections. What a breath of fresh air this album is – you may be seeing this on a lot of best-of-2021 lists at the end of the year.

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.

Slinky, Metaphorically Loaded, Ecstatic Psychedelia From the Isle of Cyprus

In the depths of the lockdown in his native Cyprus earlier this year, Monsieur Doumani frontman and tzouras lute player Antonis Antoniou persevered, became a one-man band and put out a serpentine, hypnotic solo album. Good news: his main band is back together, and has an ecstatically nocturnal new release, Pissourin streaming at Bandcamp.

This time out the group have switched guitarists, longtime touring member Andys Skordis replacing Angelos Ionas. Demetris Yiasemides returns on trombone, further enhancing the surreal atmosphere. The result is arguably the most enveloping and richly textured record of an already psychedelic career.

The opening number, Tiritichtas is a characteristically undulating, loopy, rembetiko-inspired chromatic theme with half-whispered lyrics about a trickster archetype. Antoniou sings Giorgos Vlamis’ aphoristic lyrics in Greek:

Smile at the emerging shadow
The light gets in if it finds a crack
Break down the clock, enough
Count the minutes with your heart

The rhythms get trickier in Poúlia (Pleiades), trombone serving as bass under the glittering interweave of gritty guitar and icy, oscillating tzouras textures: the trick ending is irresistibly funny. Anchored by a tasty minor-key guitar/tzouras interweave, Kalikandjari is a launching pad for lyricist Marios Epaminondas’s Dionysan tableau: only a crazed joie de vivre can save us at this point.

The group keep the nocturnal elixirs flowing in Koukkoufkiaos (The Owl), its Balkan tinges fueled by the sputtering trombone. They straighten out that pouncing beat a little for the album’s title track (rough translation: Heart of the Night), slinky tzouras climbing to shivery peaks over an increasingly frenetic backdrop.

Martha Frintzila takes over the mic, adding subtle enticement to Thamata (Miracles), Antoniou’s tzouras rippling over the bubble of the trombone. It’s the album’s most epically psychedelic track.

Alavrostishiotis (Sprite) seems to be a New Orleans spirit at heart, Skordis’ keening slide guitar multitracks over a blippy, loopy fourth line of a pulse. Nichtopapparos (Night Bat) is a sinister tale, both the trickiest and most hypnotic number here. The band wind up the album with Astrahan, a bracing, edgy account of menacing mermaid seduction. What a thrill, all the way through. This may be a year that’s been starved for psychedelic sounds, but this is one of the best records of 2021.

Wild, Electrifying Flamenco and Balkan-Flavored Dances From Besarabia

One of the most feral, entertaining albums of the year is Spanish group Besarabia‘s Animal Republic, streaming at youtube. If adrenaline is your thing, this is your jam. Multitracking themselves for a kinetically ornate, Middle Eastern-infused flamenco sound, they make a lot of noise for a trio. Eva Domingo sings, plays davul, darbuka and other percussion. Jaume Pallardo’s primary axe is the Cretan lute, but he also plays oud and baglama, often in the same song. Violist and violinist Heidi Erbrich is not only the lead instrumentalist, more or less, but is also the group’s flamenco dancer.

The first track is The Real Royal Turkey – seemingly referring to the nation, but it’s actually about the bird. Pallardo’s tantalizingly brief lute and oud breaks punch in over Erbrich’s melismatic, modal viola and emphatically syncopated stomp. The group introduce Oroneta with eerie, Bulgarian-tinged vocal harmonies, then launch into a lush, slashingly chromatic, trickily rhythmic theme. The hushed interlude toward the end, with Pallardo’s mysterious, muted plucking, comes as a real surprise.

The group follow with the raw, rustic flamenco instrumental El Conte de Talp Que Volia Ser Acell. Giraffe by the Sea is next, an irresistibly picturesque, magic-realist narrative set to punchy syncopation, with incisive lute and more bracing, antique modalities from the viola.

Cants de Balena (Whale Song) is more austere and closer to jazz, with Erbrich’s airy string harmonies and a nimbly scrambling lute solo. The album’s most hypnotically circling number, La Dans de la Serp has allusively Egyptian-inflected modes, a scary false ending, a spacious, all-too-brief oud solo and some neat oud/viola tradeoffs.

Elefanta is a diptych. Part one, La Cacharreria is an absolutely gorgeous, bittersweet lute theme and variations, with another ridiculous, funny spoken-word break from Domingo. The second half, Altibajos begins with an enigmatic viola melody and takes on more Arabic tinges as the group pounce along.

Perdut has a sparse, wistful lullaby quality. El Gato Rubato – a song that needed to be written, right? – turns out to be an amusing, high-voltage flamenco number. This cat does what he damn well pleases. The band wind up the album with the austere, elegaic counterpoint of Spider Tears. This is a lock for one of the best albums of 2021.

Acoustic Reggae and Similar Rarities by a Fixture of the NYC Parks Concert Circuit on the Upper East

Other than Bob Marley’s iconic Redemption Song – “How long must they kill our brothers while we stand aside and look?” – there’s hardly any acoustic reggae. In fourteen and a half years of concerts in what was once the live music capitol of North America, this blog and its predecessor covered exactly one acoustic reggae show, by Jamaican toaster I-Wayne. And that was a private performance for media, in the fall of 2011 in a west side studio with ganja smoke seeping out through cracks in the door.

But if you’re in Manhattan on Oct 29 and you can get to Second Avenue and 90th St. by 3 PM, you might see some acoustic reggae when ukulele player Dahlia Dumont and her group the Blue Dahlia play Ruppert Park.

Dumont has been plugged into the municipal concert circuit for the past several years, and her passion for reggae and ska matches her fondness for playing outdoors. She writes in English and her native French, in lots of other styles ranging from French varietés pop to Balkan music. Her most recent, characteristically eclectic album La Tradition Américaine got the thumbs up here in 2018.

She’s put out more material since that record, streaming at her music page. At the top, there’s Betty, a characteristically bouncy, horn-spiced quasi-ska song encouraging everybody to stop complaining about the status quo and police brutality, and go out and vote. En Dehors du Temps (Outside of Time) is a lot quieter, a wistfully waltzing familial reminiscence. Dumont recorded The Walls during the 2020 lockdown, an understatedly angst-fueled piano ballad about a relationship interrupted by fascist travel restrictions. “If we make it to the other side, will you be much changed?” she asks, speaking for as many people as Marley did with Redemption Song.

Nobody at this blog has ever caught a full set by Dumont. The closest was about the last twenty minutes of a show where she squeezed a good-sized band, including guitar, accordion and rhythm section, into an intimate Park Slope space a few months before the album came out. Dumont has also been a fixture at the annual late-November outdoor music festival that ran down Broadway from Dante Park across from Lincoln Center down to Columbus Circle. She brought a stripped-down trio to those shows, as she most likely will do at the Upper East Side park gig. She has an expressive voice, boundless energy and a sense of humor, all things we all could use right now.

Francesc Sans Takes Gorgeous, Blissfully Energetic Spanish Bagpipe Music to New Places

Spanish bagpiper Francesc Sans’s debut album as a bandleader, L’Infinit – streaming at Spotify – is wildly dynamic, often suspenseful, blissful music. As Dr. Pam Popper likes to remind us, we need to bolster our sense of joy and fun more than ever in times like these. This album is an especially exhilarating way to reconnect and recharge.

Sans plays with a breathtaking clarity, an unwavering wind-tunnel tone and a spun-silk legato. What’s just as delicious is that there are sometimes as many as three accordions at once on many of the songs here. They’re rooted in traditional styles – a lot of circle dances, a lot of waltzes – but the musicianship is way outside the box.

Sanz rises out of a murky pool of sound to a suspenseful march, then leads the group in a cheery waltz in the opening number, Tres Tocs Un Cant. After another portentous lull, they take it out triumphantly. There’s a small army of musicians on this record: Rafalito Salazar on guitar; Guillem Anguera, Josep Aparicio and Carles Belda on accordion; Pep Mateu on keys; Artemi Agràs on bass; Albert Carbonell on violin; Alexis Lanza on cello; Josep Maria Ribelles on harp; Pep Toni Rubio on flute; Iris Gayete and Pere Joan Martorell on percussion; and Ester G. Llop, Heura Gaya and Mariona Escoda on vocals,

The second track, Jnavarro is another waltz, rising to a delirious minor-key intensity. And it’s over too soon: the group could have gone on for another ten minutes and it wouldn’t be been boring. Then Sans totally flips the script with the piano ballad Les Quintes, first tenderly, then rising to symphonic proportions on the wings of the bagpipe against Mateu’s angst-fueled, neoromantic piano.

The band bring the party back with Amoretes, a rousing circle dance: Sans’ sirening glissando before the pouncing rhythm returns will give you goosebumps. After that, Tres Niuetes has rippling piano and a briskly bouncing beat that’s almost funk.

Sans stays with that number’s allusive chromatics on the airy introduction to Lo Meu Sud before the group launch into a Gipsy Kings-style romp. A La Nit De Nadal has a resonant bagpipe melody that’s just a wary hair off from a big Scottish air…plus somber Renaissance vocal harmonies.

L’Horizon begins as a cheerfully ambling theme, then shifts to a bracingly chromatic Andalucian trajectory before a wildly careening outro. Sans’ piercing clarity is stunning in A Les Fosques Pel Call, an irresistibly edgy acoustic cumbia tune.

Dolors Gegants is aptly titled, Lanza’s cello starkly aloft over Mateu’s spare, glittering piano, but then the group return to a boisterous circle dance: there’s no stopping this crew. They close the album with L’Aloseta. a rapturously unsettled cumbia lowlit with Gaya’s expressive, poignantly bittersweet vocals. What a disarmingly beautiful record for a time when we really need music like this.