Music is rather like the weather -- you can't tell it to rain only in one place, and you can't tell musicians to play music confined to a political border. So here in New York City, the home of multiple immigrant populations, you can find bands that have members of diverse ethnic and musical backgrounds, whose only goal is to gig and make good music as they hear it. The New York Gypsy Allstars are pretty much the house band for the East Village nightclub Drom. They have taken the ground-breaking Turkish fusion band Laço Tayfa's music as their jumping off point and continued in that spirit of exploration. With members from Macedonia, Greece, Turkey and, yes, even New York (!) they are frequent performers at the various events that local entrepreneurs Mehmet Dede and Ilhan Serder (their manager) promote throughout the year. So it wasn't surprising that when Selim Sesler the master of Turkish Romany clarinet came over for September's Turkish Music Festival, The Gypsy Allstars were the backup band. (Sesler's segment appears after the Allstars' here.) It gave me a chance to hear and see two radically different interpretations of traditional music; one eclectic and full of inquisitiveness, and the other roots focused, silky and soulful.
I was surprised to find out that Laço Tayfa and their lead clarinetist Hüsnü Senlenderici exerted such a major influence on the younger musicians. Of course I was aware that the band was popular, and that Senlenderici was considered an important clarinetist... but I had no idea that they had inspired an entire generation of musicians from across the Near East and the Balkans, hungry to find a contemporary musical identity. I learn something every day.
For Selim Sesler I've chosen to present only a taksim that he played that night; that's the solo improvisation that sometimes precedes a song. The club crowd was pretty raucous and I couldn't get aboard sound that night (I'll see if that can be changed in future -- Drom books so many bands I want to cover!). But Sesler was a pro, and played his heart out, and judging by the applause, there were enough folks in the audience actually listening, and appreciating the master's work.
BTW: Sesler is Rom (Gypsy) but the members of the Allstars are not. They use the term as an adjective, not a noun.
For those of you out there who are intrigued by this style of clarinet playing and would like to hear more, here's Ismail's list of influences as he related them to me: Vasilis Saleas (Greece), Ferus Mustafov -plays saxophone (Rom, Macedonia), Hüsnü Senlenderici (Turkey) Ivo Papasov (Rom, Bulgaria). I'm familiar with the playing of all of them, and I can assure you of a wild ride. The time signatures alone will have you puzzling to find "1" while the bands rip through them without breaking a sweat.
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