Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2016-01-22


Asphalt Orchestra: Asphalt Orchestra (Cantaloupe, 2010) Avant-garde brass band covers Mingus and Zappa, Swedish metal and Icelandic songbird, commissions from Battles, Stew, and, hmm, non-Roma Roma appropriator Goran Bregovic (who might be worth a concept album, fellas) ("Zomby Woof," "Champagne") **

Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar: Gipsy Manifesto (Piranha, 2013) Adding "guitar, accordion, piano and drum kit, giving a decidedly contemporary sound that's both danceable and radio-friendly"--in other words, completing their evolution into a damn fine tourist band ("Caje Sukarije (Beautiful Girl)," "Zivot Cigana (Whistle)") ***

New York Gypsy All Stars: Dromomania (self-released, 2015) Maintaining a nice intensity for most of its first half and settling into a lyricism that flirts likably with cheese after that, this is the showcase Ismael Lumanovski deserves--or would be if it made room for one of the Eric Dolphy homages I heard him unfurl as a fledgling ten years ago. Tamar Pinarbasi has guitar moments on a cymbalon-looking zither called the qanum. Engin Kaan Gunaydin impresses more subtly because he has fewer holes to fill. "Catch" isn't the only catchy one. "Melandia" isn't either. Like most indigenous styles, Gypsy music risks identity when it aims to please. This is too self-assured for that. A-

New York Gypsy All Stars: Romantech (Traditional Crossroads, 2011) Released late 2011, this debut by a post-Balkan quintet built around Macedonian-born clarinet genius Ismael Lumanovski and knocked around by irrepressible Berklee-trained Turkish drummer Engin Kaan Gunaydin lags after a strong start and then races to the finish line for 25 minutes or so. Not that it's always speedy--"Outcry" adds some gravity just when it's needed. But the closing "EZ-Pass" definitely makes a beeline for the no cash lane. B+

Taraf de Ha´douks: Of Lovers, Gamblers and Parachute Skirts (Crammed Discs, 2015) A great band, I'm beginning to think, regroups for the 25th anniversary of its formalization by gadje record men in the blessed Romanian mountain village of Clejani. Where the "second generation" of their Andalusian opposite numbers the Gipsy Kings proved even more anodyne than the first, this aggregation hasn't lost a wink or a flourish even though its eldest generation has died off. I wish I could tell you who takes the first violin break on their old "Clejani Love Song," a 20-second countermelody that sums up their collective pizzazz so irresistibly that all three violinists join in when it comes around again, and again, only to change it up around the seven-minute mark, and that ain't all--the track clocks in at 11:11. Most of the 13 songs are briefer, but their immersion in tradition never reins them in. The male voices are somewhat less grizzled, but you know they'll roughen too. And then there's soprano Viorica Rudareasa, who adds a welcome female principle to this highly masculine posse. Sweet she's not--too much sob and swagger there. Anodyne she's definitely not. A-

This Way to the Egress: Great Balancing Act (self-released, 2015) Gogol Bordello as novelty act, albeit novelty act about our approaching doom ("Earworm," "Lucy") **

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