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Sanda Weigl: Gypsy in a Tree

C. Michael Bailey By

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Romanian singer Sanda Weigl's story is a harrowing one that spans the full length of the Cold War, from pre-Ceausescu Romania to communist East Berlin to West Berlin before arriving most recently in New York City, at a time when many Gotham musicians were investigating Eastern European influences in Western music, making her expertise in Gypsy music immediately popular. A lifelong fan of Romanian Gypsy music, Weigl drank deep from all its influences, pouring her lifetime of musical and political experiences first into 2002's Gypsy Killer (Knitting Factory), and now Gypsy in a Tree.

What follows is exciting a collection of music of any kind, that could be hoped for. Weigl employs an unlikely band of Japanese multi-instrumentalists in brilliantly updating eleven traditional Gypsy songs, raising them easily into chamber art. While her Japanese cohorts might seem a strange fit, they are not so strange in the light of the success of Maasaki Suzuki and his Bach Collegium Japan has had presenting Bach Cantatas over the past 20 years. No, these guys are the crack-real thing.

Immediately evident is the oom-pah of Eastern Europe, propelled with great finesse by electric bassist Stomu Takeishi, who really puts the spit-shine on these pieces. His elastic burping presence in "Un Tagan Avea O Casa" ("A Gypsy Had a House") walks a fast 4/4 when not scaling those craggy Roma rhythms. Pianist Shoko Nagai and clarinetist Douglas Wieselman wax avant- garde jazz in their respective solo outings on the piece. This daring musicianship informs all of the pieces on this recording, never clouding the authentic with new-fangledness or novelty.

In "As Ofta Sa-Mi Isa Focul" ("I Would Sigh"), Weigl sings "I sigh to let out the fire of my love," in this lilting ballad that concludes with the anxious "Last night if I wouldn't have sighed / I wouldn't have survived to the next day / If I wouldn't have smoked / I would have gone crazy," capturing the sweet torture of desire. "Anii Mei Si Tineretea" ("The Years of My Youth") demonstrates this same confident passion, Weigl proclaiming, "I want to die while loving / and forget everything else," again honoring the in-the-moment personality of these songs.

This music is like nothing else. Weigl's Japanese trio weave a spun web of platinum upon which Weigl lays these rich and old songs. This music arrives out of East German Jewish melodies mixed with Weimar-period Berlin cabaret. It is full of life, love, lust, family—all those things that are good.

Track Listing: Intr-o zi la poarta mea; Sun tigan avea o casa; As ofta sa-mi iasa focul; Saraiman; Adu calul sa ma duc; Anii mei si tineretea; Jandarmul; Nu exista-n lumea asta; Toderel; Dans; Alomalo.

Personnel: Sanda Weigl: vocals; Douglas Wieselman :guitar, clarinet; Shoko Nagai: accordion, piano, Farfisa; Ben Stapp: tuba; Stomu Takeishi: electric bass; Satoshi Takeishi: percussion.

Title: Gypsy in a Tree | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Barbes Records


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