Hearing explosive Romanian brass orchestra Fanfare Ciocarlia relegated to the role of backing band is surreal. But guitarist Adrian Raso is a spectacular and eclectic player, to the extent that he doesn’t get overshadowed by the legendary Romany party monsters. Their new collaboration, Devil’s Tale, due out next month, is in many respects as noir as noir gets: it’s both the roots of noir and the cutting edge as well, along with a couple of more lighthearted, more pop-oriented tracks. Raso distinguishes himself as a bearer of the Django Reinhardt legacy as well as a searing soloist whose signature style draws on decades of Americana.
The opening track, Ulm St. Tavern is sort of St. James Infirmary transplanted to Bucharest – people have died in this bar. It’s a Kurt Weill-style noir blues theme driven by banjo and tremolo-bar guitar early on, the orchestra looming in and then receding, Raso peeling off a snarling slide guitar solo, the band speeding it up at the end although the song is over before it gets completely out of hand. It sets the stage for pretty much everything that comes afterward.
Swing Sagarese is the first of the Romany jazz numbers, the band adding a circus rock edge with a delicious handoff between alto sax and trumpet. The Absinthe-Minded Gypsy, another noir blues, opens with ominous banjo and a wash of horns, like a more ornate take on the Dimestore Dance Band, bristling with eerie chromatics and bitingly brief solos from banjo, dobro and tuba. C’Est La Vie goes back to spiraling, flurrying, wickedly catchy Romany guitar jazz, while Quattro Cicci brings in a high-voltage flamenco feel with a lush bed of guitars bolstered by the orchestra’s signature pinpoint, precise brass. After Raso’s done wailing, it builds to a big, anthemic stadium-rock outro.
Charlatan’s Waltz is more low key and creepy, like Beninghove’s Hangmen in especially brooding mode, a carnivalesque waltz with pulsing staccato horns, accordion and a judicously spiky Romany jazz guitar solo. The arguably most surreal number here is the title track, a Romany jazz orchestra doing Duane Eddy, or vice versa; Raso’s hammering, staccato solo over rimshot drums midway through adds both unexpected humor and suspense. Likewise, there’s both twistedness and drollery in the slowly swaying Leezard’s Lament, with its darkly rustic banjo, lingering slow-burn tremolo guitar, weird jawharp and samples in the background.
Both Cafe Con Leche and Spirtissimo venture toward Gipsy Kings territory, the first with hints of a bolero, the second more of a flamenco-flavorred tune. Birelli’s Waltz starts out as an elegantly moody theme and then warms as it moves into more straightforward guitar jazz. The album ends with the briskly marching, playful Django, with its gritty horn pointillisms and wry quotes from famous themes from across the ages. Fanfare Ciocarlia are at Webster Hall in the main room at 9:40 PM on Jan 12 as part of Globalfest.