Orkestina – Transilvania Express (World Village 498002, 2003)
Harmonious Wail – Gypsy Swing (Naxos World 76056-2, 2003)
Nadya Giga and Their 101 Candles Orchestra (no label or number information)
Thus far, there hasn’t really been a lumped-together subgenre dubbed “European music” in the same sense that there’s been, for example, “African music” or “Latin music.” These three European-rooted releases, furthermore, lean heavily toward sounds associated with the Gypsy realm, but I would hesitate to proclaim them “Gypsy music” because of what else they’ve got going on.Beginning with a melodic forefront of double bass, accordion, violin, and gadulka (Bulgarian 13-string fiddle), Spain-based Orkestina draws on the ethnic backgrounds of its members (English, Irish, Bulgarian, Spanish) and their diverse tastes and talents.
The music on Transilvania Express is a richly arranged and exquisitely played selection of Bulgarian folk rubbing elbows with klezmer, Balkan melodies jigging and reeling to Arabic percussion and deep-seated traditions boosted by modern spirits. There are eight instrumentals and one love song here, and each contributes fully to making this disc a seriously spunky winner.
The back cover of Harmonious Wail’s Gypsy Swing contends that the term “Gypsy swing” is the only jazz style coined outside the U.S. I have not the expertise to confirm or deny that, but I can say that their sound, inspired by the jazz experimentation of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli in the first half of the 20th century, has a lot going for it. Gypsy passion and romanticism are very much in evidence, along with a sizable French cabaret vibe and the adventurousness of recasting familiar American songs (“Chasing Rainbows,” “Sheik of Araby,” etc.) in Gypsy jazz style.
The presence of a mandolin as the frequent lead instrument and some very tart violin playing bring a degree of bluegrass as well (this is an American band, after all). It’s mostly snappy instrumentals,
but a few smoky vocal selections add variety and color to the mix of covers and originals. A generous running time of 76 minutes allows this charmingly infectious music to work its way into you cool and slow.
Lastly, and somehow least likely, there’s Nadya Giga and Their 101 Candles Orchestra. Their home base is in Sydney, Australia but their sound is classic eastern European. There’s lots of galloping rhythms, brimming brass, swirling reeds and strings and yes, that Gypsy thing again. Singer Nadya Golski (originally from Poland) and Bosnian guitarist/musical director Giga Mirsad Jeleskovic are the guiding forces here, having their act together on all fronts. They even slip in an Irish folk song without turning down or radically changing the heat of their Bosnian/Croatian/Spanish/klezmer ingredients. Sizzling songs, sad songs, expert playing and lots of heart carry the album, and it’s a gem.