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Deliciously Dark Heavy Psych Sounds in Gowanus Saturday Night

This Saturday night, June 23 starting at 8ish there’s a monster heavy rock triplebill at Lucky 13 Saloon in Gowanus. Deliciously dirgey, hypnotic Brooklyn doom metal band Neither God Nor Master open the night, followed by darkly artsy boogie band Hogan’s Goat and then haunting heavy psych band Matte Black. The venue’s calendar page doesn’t list a cover charge, but it’s usually ten bucks here. 

Much as the night’s two later bands are excellent, the most intriguing act of the night could be Brooklyn’s own Neither God Nor Master. When’s the last time you heard a doomy heavy psych band with a cello and a woman out front? Their debut release – you could call its two epic tracks either an ep or a maxi-single – is up at Bandcamp as a free download.

As the nine-minute dirge The Weedeologue gets underway, guitarist Mike Calabrese looms ominously, throws bloodsplatters of blues in between his chords a la Tony Iommi and lets the feedback grow and then recede over the slow, unstoppable wave motion of bassist Paul Atreides and drummer Angela Tornello. Singer Valerie Russo walks a steady line between echoey clarity and mystery, a somber, distant presence.

The second song is Who Placates the Fire. The rhythm section sway along, driven by Atreides’ Electric Funeral chromatics and cellist Chelsea Shugert’s creepy fuzztones, Russo’s voice slowly sliding around the midrange. Calabrese eventually hits his wah pedal and channels Ron Asheton at halfspeed. Fans of classic and newschool doom, from Sabbath and Sleep to Electric Citizen, will love this band. If they get a chance to hit the road, they have a global audience waiting for them, lighters raised, reeking of weed.

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The Sideshow Tragedy Amp Up Their Uneasy, Ferocious Punk Blues

Austin duo the Sideshow Tragedy’s 2015 album Capital was “a sinister, brilliantly metaphorical portrait of a nation gone off the rails in an orgy of greed and mass desperation,” as this blog described it at the time. Since the fateful 2016 election, it’s only taken on more relevance. The band’s new album, The View From Nowhere is streaming at Bandcamp. The music is heavier and more corrosively enveloping than the band’s earlier material, while the lyrics are surprisingly more spare, hip hop-influenced and surprisingly hopeful. The duo of guitarist Nathan Singleton and drummer Jeremy Harrell are making a relatively rare New York stop tomorrow night, June 21 at 10:30 PM at the Manderley Bar at the McKittrick Hotel, 530 W 27th St. between 10th/11th Aves on the south side of the street. Watch for the little red light; admission is free.

As the duo build to an impressibly hefty Some Girls-era Rolling Stones groove in the album’s opening cut, Lost Time, Singleton sets the tone for what’s to come:

What does it mean to forgive
What would it cost live under the weight of memory
My body gives out underneath

The songs, and much of the rest of the album, strongly bring to mind Marcellus Hall’s great bassless 90s New York trio White Hassle.

Piston Blues is a showcase for Singleton’s snarling, serpentine blues hammer-ons. Trust has a funky lowrider slink that the duo build to a catchy, hypnotic riff-rock groove, with welcome, defiant optimism. Nobody, a mashup of 70s Stones and the Gun Club, has a cynical “I’ll get mine come hell or high water” message. “There’s nobody out on the road tonight, just me and my  memories looking for a fight,” Singleton intones bitterly. 

The band keep the hard funk going in Time to Taste, with a haggard, screechy sax break. Singleton’s enigmatically shifting open chords fuel Afraid to Fall: “I’m painting the future as a masterpiece, screaming my lungs out in the belly of the beast,” he rails. It’s the most darkly funny and lyrically complex tune here.

The epically shuffling Long Time Coming has a guarded optimism, Harrell’s gunshot accents under Singleton’s fire-and-brimstone imagery. For Your Love – an original, not the Yardbirds hit – is the most ornate track here, Singleton’s lingering guitar multitracks over Harrell’s steady stomp. The album winds up with pensive, mutedly Dylanesque title track: “Can’t look anybody in the eye, can’t suspend my disbelief,” Singleton muses. It’s a change of pace for the band: while the album doesn’t have the previous album’s visceral, apocalyptic impact, the guitar here is no less assaultively tasty. 

A Hilariously Irreverent, Wickedly Tuneful New Album From Irrepressible Saxophonist Elijah Shiffer

Elijah Shiffer is one of the most colorful saxophonists and composers in New York. As a member of this city’s most exhilarating, original klezmer jazz band, Klazz-Ma-Tazz, he gets plenty of opportunities to entertain with his sizzling chops and sense of humor. Shiffer also has an irresistibly fun new album of his own material, Unhinged, with his band the Robber Crabs streaming at Bandcamp, and a gig tomorrow night, June 20 at 9:30 PM at Arete Gallery in Greenpoint.

Shiffer  – limiting himself strictly to alto sax here – sprints jovially over the spring-loaded backdrop of guitarist Andrew Shillito, bassist Marty Kenney and drummer Tim Rachbach (his Klazz-Ma-Tazz bandmate) in the catchy, samba-tinged opening track, Crab Dance. Likewise, Material Overture is a wryly jaunty postbop number, Shiffer swinging the blues for all it’s worth, Shillito careening and crunching, then turning it over to Kenney’s growling prowl as the band hits a Booker T groove.

The title track is crazy in an OCD way, an uptight strut where Shiffer works his way down from a squeal with one buffoonish melisma after another, landing comfortably in New Orleans for a bit before the gremlins invade again. Shillito’s R2D2 microtones add squirrelly surrealism.

Isabelline sounds suspiciously like a hot 20s swing parody as Mostly Other People Do the Killing would do it, complete with deadpan banjo from Shillito  and some snarky conversation between Schiffer and bass saxophonist Jay Rattman. The group revisit that vein later in the album with I Know What I Want to Do, which seems to be less satirical. You never know with these guys,

The album’s catchiest, hardest-charging track is a cinematic instrumental rock tune, Loosestrife, Shillito blasting through his distortion pedal. That Dada Strain is a deliciously syncopated mashup of klezmer and dixieland, with a sudden tempo shift that’s as amusing as it is predictable. The Drapes (Much of a Muchness) is definitely all that, a rather frantic number driven by Shillito’s crunchy chords until Shiffer goes dancing toward Crescent Street again.

Finally, eight tracks into the album, they hit a ballad, Mangrove, a slow, balmy, bluesy stroll. The album’s most cartoonishly amusing track is Flotsam – with its peek-a-boo phrasing juxtaposed with uneasy, acidic, noir-tinged guitar, it brings to mind the Microscopic Septet. The quintet close the album with That’s a Plenty, a ridiculously amusing hardcore punk cartoon theme. It’s hard to imagine a band having more fun onstage than these guys.

A Refreshing New Spin on Old Soul Sounds and a Bowery Ballroom Gig from the Individualistic Liz Brasher

The coolest thing about Body of Mine, the opening track on soul singer Liz Brasher’s debut ep Outcast, isn’t the vocals, which have a refreshingly understated angst. Nor is it the song’s purposeful, bluesy tune. It’s how Brasher substitutes her own fuzztone guitar for a smoky baritone sax. Ever since Amy Winehouse and then the late great Sharon Jones springboarded the oldschool soul revival, it seems that every suburban lawyer with money to burn has been getting behind one big-voiced soul woman after another in search of something like cred, and some apocryphal payday in what’s left of an industry they know nothing about. Liz Brasher does not appear to be part of that crowd, because her music doesn’t fit the mold. She’s playing Bowery Ballroom this June 22 at 9 PM; cover is $20. Just be aware that there are two bands on after her and neither one is worth knowing about.

The ep – streaming at Bandcamp – rocks harder than your typical vintage 60s soul ballad collection, and it’s darker and bluesier than any of the frantic American Idol imitators could ever be. Brasher gets that fuzztone going again in the biting minor-key second second track, Come My Way, rising to a swaying, pulsing Tammi Terrell-style crescendo on the chorus and then doubletracking her guitar for extra slash on the way out.

Distorted Nord Electro piano and swirling organ mingle over a stomping, swinging beat in Feel Something. “You copy my moves, you do what you want but everyone knows,” Brasher intones knowingly; there isn’t a single point here where she goes for phony gospel excess.

The title cut is a straight-up garage rock nugget, all catchy fuzztone vamping and tumbling drums. Brasher’s lingering, tremoloing chords underpin distant latin allusions (no surprise considering her Dominican heritage) in the bittersweetly crescendoing Remain. The ep winds up with its most retro cut, Cold Baby, Brasher channeling righteous defiance over a lushly orchestrated bed of strings and organ. She’s got a full-length album due out this summer, which is worth keeping an eye out if you’re into this stuff but don’t have the energy to look that fa-fa-fa to find a soul cliche.

That’s an Elvis Costello quote, by the way.

A Harrowing, Hauntingly Relevant, Apocalyptic Album and a North Carolina Stand by Curtis Eller’s New Psychedelic Band

Curtis Eller has been one of the great songwriters in any style of music since the early zeros. His music has a deep gothic Americana streak and an occasional resemblance to Tom Waits, with a similarly diverse Americana palette that spans from blues to bluegrass to the theatre music that’s become Eller’s latest focus. He’s also a magnetic live performer, and a killer storyteller (pun intended). His latest project features his new dark psychedelic band the Bipeds, who are playing this coming weekend at their dance company’s performance at the Fruit, 305 South Dillard St in Durham, North Carolina. Shows are June 21-23 at 8 PM, with an additional 6 PM performance on June 24. Cover is $15/$10 stud/srs.

The Bipeds’ haunting, Orwellian, carnivalesque debut album, 54 Strange Words, is streaming at Bandcamp. Bristling with fire-and-brimstone metaphors, it’s an assessment of how a populace can be both lulled and beaten into submission by a police state. Musically, it’s something of a departure for Eller in that the songs are both a lot longer and louder than most of his back catalog, partially due to the presence of electric guitarist Jack Fleishman (who also takes a turn on the drums). Joseph Dejarnette plays bass and baritone guitar, with Gabriel Anderson usually behind the drumkit. Stacy Wolfson, Dana Marks, Jessi Knight and William Commander all pitch in on vocals.

Eller’s spare banjo opens the first track, awash in reverb. setting the stage for this grim whodunit as it morphs into a hypnotic, loopy groove akin to early Country Joe & the Fish in 7/8 time. “Human error and blood on my hands – you want murder, man, this is one,” Eller intones.

A Ragged Sayonara, a sad, slow country waltz, features an arresting break for Marks’ mighty, theremin-like, operatic vocalese. It seems to be directed at a ghost. “Sayonara, my poison, a shadow grows into my dreams…and mercury blossoms rise through me,” Eller matter-of-factly explains.

An ominously echoey minature, The Ransom Note segues into Great Skeleton House, a creepy, slow stomp with the women in the band on vocals, dead bones assembled as some twisted kind of metaphorical home. As with the opening number, Eller kicks off the fire-and-brimstone delta blues Dressful of Dreams with spare, brooding solo banjo, then the rhythm section hits a shuffle beat and they’re off, rising to an uneasily enveloping crescendo. A funeral pyre may be involved.

A Surgical Solution is a diptych, first an Appalachian poltergeist aria, just Marks backed by Eller’s skeletal banjo. As the band shifts into an ominous, metaphorically bristling blues, the Orwellian linguistics and implications thereof, which Eller alludes to earlier in the album, finally break the surface.

Strange Words is the key to this song cycle, a sternly apocalyptic 6/8 minor-key blues that builds to another hypnotic psych-folk vamp . “There’s a human heart beating in the silence, the only thing a human heart can do,” Eller muses in typical aphoristic fashion. As his narrative grows more macabre, it’s a reminder of how similar biblical and wartime imagery are. The final cut is Amnesiac’s Grace, imagining with withering Roger Waters-style cynicism what the world would be like once everything displeasing to the dictators has been erased. Needless to say, in times like these, we need more albums like this. And if the theatrical performance even remotely echoes Eller’s bleak, uncompromising vision, it must be pretty intense.

Defiance, Relevance and Transcendence With the New York Philharmonic in Prospect Park

So many inspiring conclusions to take away from the New York Philharmonic’s phantasmagorically majestic performance this past evening in Prospect Park. In the year of the Metoo movement, that the orchestra would choose a centerpiece celebrating a mythic heroine who disarms a psychotic dictator using only her wits spoke volumes. 

As does the organization’s long-running Very Young Composers mentorship and advocacy program. Two of those individuals were represented on the bill, each a young African-American woman and a native Brooklynite. And in what’s been a challengingly transitional interregnum between music directors, the choice of James Gaffigan to lead the ensemble through some stunningly fresh, meticulously articulated, relevatory interpretations of material they’ve probably played dozens of times before paid mighty dividends.

At a concert pitched to pull a family audience, local city council representative Brad Lander’s commentary on the ongoing anguish of families being broken up by the ongoing extremist clampdown on immigrants was the night’s most overtly political moment. A polyglot crowd echoed their fervent, familial solidarity, then the orchestra spoke to how triumphantly this scenario could actually play out.

They foreshadowed the suspense and splendor of their romp through Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade with an arguably even more carnivalesque stampede through the Bacchanale from Saint-Saens’ opera Samson and Delilah. Even if its creepy chromatics aren’t much more than Hollywood hijaz, those Arabic inflections were another crushingly relevant reference point.

If the program’s two brief, kinetic works by young composers Jordan Millar and Camryn Cowan are any indication, the blues are as much alive in Brooklyn as they were during the Harlem Renaissance, a most welcome meme throughout the New York City public schools this year and a vivid theme for these two gradeschoolers. Each compose’s piece put simple, emphatic blues hooks front and center in lieu of expansive harmony or flourishes, the former with a neat, cold stop midway through and some unexpected, Mozartean lustre afterward.

The orchestra made it to the concert’s midway point with three jaunty, frequently coy excerpts from Leonard Bernstein’s score to On the Town. The Philharmonic’s pretty-much-annual tour of the New York City parks system, from the Bronx to Staten Island, always feature a little bit of everything, including what in another century would have been called “pops” material from outside the classical canon. But as with the rest of the program, Gaffigan didn’t deviate from the game plan or phone these in, airing out the composer’s exchanges of voicings with a painterly charm.

And as much as the park programming is standard repertoire, the Philharmonic never picks tired or cheesy material. Over the last few years, we’ve been treated to plenty of Stravinsky – notably a conflagration of The Firebird in Central Park a couple years back – as well as a similarly colorful tour of Respighi’s Pines of Rome a little before then. Considering both the political subtext and the stunning attention to detail from both Gaffigan and the orchestra, this could have been the best of all of them since the turn of the decade.

Getting to witness it from the best seat in the house – about the equivalent of row L at their Lincoln Center home – no doubt colored this perception. Looking out into the wide swath of greenery in front of them, it must be tempting for everyone onstage to want to play loud, but Gaffigan mined the entirety of the sonic spectrum in keeping with the composer’s top-to-bottom orchestration. When there was suspense, it was relentless; when there was menace, it was a carnival of potentially dead souls; when there were dreamy interludes, they had a celestial vastness.

And the solos, tantalizingly brief as they were, were mesmerizing. Concertmaster Frank Huang spun joyously expert filigrees and flickers, up to an almost shocking cadenza in the final movement where he dug in so hard it seemed that he might break a violin string. Similar effects – especially bassoonist Judith LeClair’s silken, mutedly bittersweet solo – further underscored a triumphant narrative mirroring both the angst and transgressive victories in so many of the world’s ongoing struggles and rebellions.

The Philharmonic’s 2018 tour of the boroughs concludes on Sunday, June 17 indoors at 3 PM at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Staten Island.

A Phenomenally Tuneful, Catchy New Middle Eastern Jazz Album From Multi-Instrumentalist Gordon Grdina

There’s a consensus among many musicians that if you can play one stringed instrument, you can learn to play them all if you put in the practice time. Gordon Grdina is persuasive proof: he’s as much of a force on the guitar as he is on the oud. And these days, when he’s not on tour, he’s become a welcome addition to the New York jazz scene. He’s got a couple of very different, very enticing gigs coming up. Tonight, June 14 at 8 he’s at Happy Lucky No. 1 Gallery with Marrow, his oud-driven Middle Eastern jazz quartet with Hank Roberts on cello, Mark Helias on bass and Hamin Honari on Persian percussion. Then this Saturday night, June 16 at 8 Grdina leads his more western-inflected guitar band with Oscar Noriega on reeds, Russ Lossing on piano and Satoshi Takeishi on drums at Greenwich House Music School. Cover is $15/$10 stud/srs.

Grdina has new albums with both bands as well. To say that one is edgier than the other is a hard call, attesting to the unhinged intensity the guitar quartet is capable of – especially live. It was pretty hair-raising to catch that latter ensemble doing what was essentially a live rehearsal in the middle of nowhere in Bed-Stuy a few weeks back. Grdina’s latest album with that group, Inroads, is streaming at Bandcamp. The latest Marrow album, Edjeha – Farsi for dragon – isn’t officially out quite yet. And it’s nothing short of extraordinary, genuinely pushing the envelope in terms of how far an artist can take both Middle Eastern maqam music and American jazz.

As Edjeha gets underway, Grdina takes a sparse, incisive approach to the misterioso opening cut, Telesm, almost imperceptibly building to a series of scrambling clusters as Honari keeps a muted, funereal frame drum beat going. Then Roberts builds a plaintive solo as Helias and Honari run a hypnotic groove that eventually hits a triumphant scamper. It’s closer to Levantine classical music than is it to postbop swing.

Helias takes a turn in deliciously suspenseful mode to introduce Idiolect, an insistent, anthemic Middle Eastern jazz epic that veers into waltz time for a bit, both the bassist and cellist having unselfsconscious fun mining the microtones for all the unsettled intensity they’re worth, up to a joyously otherworldly Roberts solo.

Grdina rises out of a broodingly exploratory taqsim to a circling, stabbing theme in the album’s title track, Roberts taking an emphatic, steady solo as the group spin the central riff behind him. The deceptively catchy Bordeaux Bender juxtaposes Grdina’s spare oud against similarly terse bowed strings, intimating at a casual stroll but never quite going there.

The wyrly titled Wayward begins with a darkly haphazard improvisatory interlude before Honari leads the band through a series of grinningly machinegunning motives; then they bustle along with a devious, marionettish pulse, Roberts again jumping at the chance to give it a coda. Grdina’s plaintive intro to Full Circle is a pretty radical contrast, echoed by Roberts; then Grdina completely flips the script with his genial ballad phrasing. The album’s final number is Boubacar, a surrealistic mashup of Mali, boogie and stark 19th century country blues, a shout-out to the great Malian guitarist Boubacar Traore.

Whether you consider all this jazz, Middle Eastern music, both, or a brand-new style that Grdina’s just invented, this is one of New York’s best bands, bar none. And this is one of the half-dozen best albums released this year so far in any style of music.

Twin Guns Bring Their Searing Noir Intensity to a Revered, Repurposed East Village Spot

Are Twin Guns the best straight-up rock band in New York right now? They could be. Since the early zeros, the trio of guitarist Andrea Sicco, former Cramps drummer Jungle Jim and bassist Kristin Fayne-Mulroy have put out three volcanic, creepy, reverb-oozing albums that blend punk, garage rock, horror surf and spaghetti western sounds. Their latest one, Imaginary World – streaming at Bandcamp – continues in the more ornate, menacingly psychedelic direction of their previous release The Last Picture Show. Their next gig is tomorrow night, June 14 at 9:30 PM at Coney Island Baby, the former Brownies and Hifi Bar space. Cover is $12.

The new album begins with the title cut, Sicco’s menacingly reverberating layers of guitar over steady, uneasy tom-toms and cymbal splashes, the bass a looming presence deep in the mix. As the surreal tableau builds, Sicco adds roaring, pulsing and keening slide guitar textures, a one-man psychedelic punk guitar army.

100 Teenage Years follows a furtively vampy Laurel Canyon psych-folk tangent in the same vein as the Allah-Las. Cannibal Soul is a twisted waltz, Fayne-Mulroy supplying hypnotic fuzztone growl beneath Sicco’s slowly uncoiling, macabre layers of chromatics, a sonic black velvet cake. Then the trio mash up doom metal and horror surf in Dark Is Rising, funeral organ tremoloing over a crushing Bo Diddley beat.

Complete with a peppy horn section, Portrait in Black could be the darkest faux bossa Burt Bacharach ever wrote – or Tredici Bacci in especially mean, sarcastic mode. The band revisit their more straight-ahead vintage garage rock roots with the shuffling Sad Sad Sunday, then move forward thirty years to the hypnotically riff-driven Blueberry Sugar, which sounds like the Brian Jonestown Massacre playing Motown.

Sociopath is a straight-up zombie strut, Sicco artfully adding layers around the skeleton. The lush, bleak dirge House on the Hill brings unexpected plaintiveness and gravitas to the playlist, followed by the album’s most ep[ic track, Endless Dream, rising from 60s riff-rock to BJM spacerock to melancholy psych-folk and a final sampede out.

There are also three bonus tracks. My Baby, awash in a toxic exhaust of white noise, drifts from punk R&B toward the outer galaxies. Sick Theater might be the album’s best and creepiest track, a macabre, funereal, organ-infused waltz. The final song is Late at Night, an evilly twinkling, hypnotic way to wrap up one of the most unselfconsciously fun and intense albums in recent memory.

Ambitious, Counterintuitive Tunefulness from Trumpeter Adam O’Farrill’s Stranger Days

Trumpeter Adam O’Farrill didn’t exactly burst onto the Manhattan scene – he eased into it, mentored by his father, the brilliant pianist/composer/activist Arturo O’Farrill. The trumpeter’s big splash was when Vijay Iyer enlisted him while barely out of his teens. His technique is astonishing, from the top to the bottom of his register, and with amazing subtlety for someone with such fearsome chops. He’s also a very soulful and playful composer, which takes some people by surprise, which it shouldn’t. Depth isn’t a quality that necessarily comes with age. Think about it: were you stupid when you were in your early twenties? If you’re reading this, probably not.

Adam O’Farrill’s second album with his chordless quartet, Stranger Days – with Chad Lefkowitz-Brown on tenor sax, Walter Stinson on bass and similarly brilliant older brother Zack on drums – is titled El Maquech. It’s a step forward for an already talented bandleader, who’s bringing his crew to the album release show at 55 Bar tomorrow night, June 13 at 10 PM. Much as the club is a rare remaining fortress of (very) oldschool West Village cool, this is the kind of show that really ought to happen at, say, Lincoln Center. If the late, great Lorraine Gordon was still with us, she unquestionably would have given this guy a week at the Vanguard.

The album’s opening number, Siiva Moiiva – which you can hear on Bandcamp along with the rest of the tracks – is a reinvented Mexican folk tune, both a showcase for shivery, allusively Arabic extended technique and some jubilant New Orleans rhythms, veering back and forth between the two. Stinson’s wryly syncopated groove underscores horn harmonies that shift from carefree to defiantly haggard in Verboten Chant, inspired by the dilemma faced by Japanese monks who were prohibited from chanting.

The title cut – named after a Mexican beetle depicted in ancient Mayan jewelry – is a darkly blazing, gorgeous New Orleans/bolero mashup, trumpet soaring, sax smoking, drums adding innumerable colorful textures and cadenzas. Erroneous Love – based on Thelonious Monk’s Eronel – blends Rudresh Mahanthappa-inspired bhangra riffage balanced by Lefkowitz-Brown’s tongue-in-cheek, Jon Iragabon-ish microtones.

LIkewise, Shall We (If You Really Must Insist) is a phostbop bhangra fanfare, done as a a brightly stripped-down trumpet-and-drums duo. Irving Berlin’s Get Thee Behind Me Satan – originally a lushly orchestrated Ella Fitzgerald vehicle from the trumpeter’s favorite film, The Master – gets reinvented as an expansively bittersweet, semi-rubato solo piece.

Henry Ford Hospital – inspired by the Frida Kahlo painting – shifts between strolling and frantic meters, matched by the horns’ pounces and shrieks. Pointilllistic cymbals contrast with foghorn harmonies as the album’s final cut, Gabriel Garzon-Montano’s Pour Maman, gets underway, edging between astigmatic Krzysztof Komeda-esque noir and mariachi majesty. Many flavors to savor here.

Lush, Lively, Inventive Cuban String Sounds From the Toomai String Quintet

Last night at Symphony Space, the Toomai String Quintet played an irrepressibly dancing album release show for their new one, Cuerdas Cubanas, which would have made Ernesto Lecuona proud. The “Cuban Gershwin,” as bandleader and bassist Andrew Roitstein aptly characterized him, is well represented on the record and likewise in the concert program, a mix of elegantly serpentine themes with the Cuban composer’s signature blend of European classical, flamenco, Romany and indigenous sounds.

Cellist Hamilton Berry grinningly told the crowd that Roitstein’s new arrangements, many of them based on material originally written for piano or orchestra, were pretty awesome, and he wasn’t kidding. Roitstein has an obvious affinity for Lecuona’s work, and his bandmates  – who also include violinists Emilie-Anne Gendron and Alex Fortes and violist Erin Wight – reveled in his nifty exchanges of phrases and contrapuntal voicings.

You might not think that a singer who’s made a career in opera, as Roitstein’s sister Alina has, would necessarily be suited to singing salsa, but she also obviously gravitates toward this music. A magnetic presence in front of the band, swinging her hips and negotiating the lyrics in impressively fluent Spanish, she delivered cheery and frequently coy versions of hits made famous by Celia Cruz, Tito Puente and others.

A slinky, loopy bass and cello interweave set up Gendron’s plaintive vibrato in the night’s lilting, opening instrumental, La Comparsa. True to its title, Zamba Gitana had emphatic Romany riffage and some neat handoffs between the two violinists. The exchanges between band members were even more incisive in the phantasmagorical Gitanerias, which the group began as a real danse macabre.

There were also plenty of lighthearted moments in the set, including but hardly limited to a jaunty santeria dance, an animated thicket of pizzicato in Lecuona’s En Tres Por Cuatro, and the balmy nocturnal ambience of Manuel Ponce’s Plenilunio. There was also an interlude where a small battalion of young string players who’d been workshopping Cuban music with the quintet joined them and added extra ballast to the Israel “Cachao” Lopez hit A Gozar Con Mi Combo. Solos are still a work in progress for these kids, but when they played along with the rest of the band, the music was absolutely seamless.

The quintet encored with Lecuona’s Andalucia, shifting from uneasily acerbic Arabic-flavored chromatics to an indomitable, triumphant sway. It’s hard to think of a more perfect way to close such an eclectically enjoyable show. The Toomai String Quintet have a weekly Saturday 6 PM residency at Barbes coming up this September, where you will undoubtedly get many opportunities to hear a lot of this material.