My exposure to what I think of as so-called "gypsy" music has mostly been limited to French and Spanish distillations thereof, from Django Reinhardt to (ahem) Gipsy Kings. I’ve always been inordinately attracted to a sort of Old World, predominantly-minor-key oompah sound, from Weill to Waits to Rota. I’d been acquainted with Goran Bregovic’s irrepressible brass stylings via the extraordinary Balkan epic Underground.
But it’s only been in the past few weeks, since I attended the Golden Festival, and then a recent show at Joe’s Pub featuring the Balkan-style gypsy big band Romashka, and the antsy but gratifying wide-ranging chamber-jam music of Ljova, that I’ve experienced a full bracing blast of real Old World sounds. I’m not sure where this new musical frontier is leading me, but I like the soundtrack so far.
What’s novel and exciting about it—and I especially felt this with Ljova’s impossibly accomplished ensemble—is that it’s devilishly complicated, fully charted music but it felt like these musicians were jamming, grooving together. I felt much the same way about the fascinating string quartet Invert when I saw them play at Issue Project Room some time last year: They came off like a band that had worked out its parts by jamming together. They played like they’d never seen a music stand. I mean that as a high compliment—and as a high bar to shoot far.