Fanfare Ciocarlia - Gili Garabdi: Ancient Secrets of Gypsy Brass
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Fanfare Ciocarlia
Gili Garabdi: Ancient Secrets of Gypsy Brass
Asphalt Tango (

cd cover Wherever musicians have been relegated to low-class status, the music of the powerful became raw creative material, as a matter of cultural survival. Gypsy (Rom) artists have taken successive cues from Ottoman military brass bands, Austro-Hungarian potentates, Nazi hooligans, Soviet philistines and - with the lid off of Eastern European dictatorship - the whole of Western popular culture. Roma musicians are inveterate samplers, but running jazz, classical themes, film soundtracks and the cheesy miscellany of late consumer capitalism through the Rom brass mill produces anything but predictable results.

Gili Garabdi is the latest chapter in the musical adventures of Fanfare Ciocarlia, the genre's leading speed demons. The album notes claim that when Rom enslaved under Ottoman rule were liberated in 1864, thousands debarked for the US, where they reportedly "settled in the black ghettoes of the Southern US" and continued to make music. This will come as news to students of jazz and Reconstruction alike, but the tale is perhaps best taken as a metaphorical expression of affinity with the genius of another seminal underdog music.

To wit, check out the Satchmo-inspired scat singing and approximation of a New Orleans second line on "Golden Days," or "Moldavian Mood," which shifts from a slowly meandering jazz-like trumpet solo into a full-tilt brass blast. Then there's FC's remake of the Ellington-Tizol classic, "Caravan," whose muddy, strutting, knockdown sound is closer to the Dirty Dozen Brass Band than something heard at the Cotton Club so long ago.

Film music is also free game, as on "Hora Evreiasca," inspired by Henry Mancini's (uncredited) Pink Panther theme (dappled with some big-top circus riffs), or the album opener, "007," taking a page from the Skatalites' encomium to Mr. James Bond. Even closer to their Eastern European home turf, FC is joined by Bulgarian Rom singer Jony Iliev on two of his signature tunes, "Maren Ma" and "Godzilla," the latter quite distinct from the reptilian silver screen horror.

Gili Garabdi has been four years coming, a delay explained by a touring rate of 250 dates a year. Headed to Korea (Kim Jong Il, watch out!), they will touch down stateside for a tour in late August 2005. Rom brass band music is best appreciated live (or at speaker-shredding volume), and the fortunate few on FC's trajectory will not be disappointed. - Michael Stone

Note: Among other noted Rom brass bands, Fanfare Ciocarlia are featured in a new book, Princes Amongst Men: Journeys with Gypsy Musicians, by Garth Cartwright (Serpent's Tail, 2005).

CD available from cdRoots

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