To listen to audio on Rock Paper Scissors you'll need to Get the Flash Player

log in to access downloads
Sample Track 1:
"Horska" from Horska
Sample Track 2:
"Montreal" from Constellation
Layer 2
Gypsophilia, Horska EP, North American Tour Django Unleashed: Gypsophilia’s Irreverent Exuberance and Gypsy Jazz Mash Ups

The club is packed. There’s dancing on the tables, a line around the block. The guitars are blazing, the fiddle and trumpet blasting, reviving the days when jazz music was actually meant for getting down.

It’s just another hot night in Halifax for Gypsophilia. The band has all the exquisite, requisite chops as they sway or romp through gypsy jazz-inspired originals. But a performance often involves handstands and flips (as ceiling clearances allow), or an impromptu jam based on a small-town audience madly chanting the violinist’s name. It’s music meant to get people moving, as irreverent as it is virtuosic.

“Instrumental music can be harder for people to connect with,” explains guitarist (and back-flipping martial artist) Ross Burns. “It can be a challenge to get emotionally vested for audiences, but we work really hard to connect actively, to grab them by the shirt collars and make them dance.”

Born from the tight-knit, open-eared Haligonian scene, the sextet may have sprung full-blown from a jazz festival tribute to Django Reinhardt, but it has a quirky, almost restless love for trying anything and everything on for size: reggae and dub (loud and clear on the “Horska” remix), funk, klezmer, classical flourishes and rock drive. They can play major international jazz fests (including a freewheeling set in front of thousands at last year’s Montreal Jazz Fest), and then burn through slow jams at a high school prom (where the band unveiled its unprecedented jazz manouche cover of Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road”).

Now on their latest EP, Horska, and on their summer tour in the U.S., Gypsophilia will unleash a multifaceted, fun sound that dares listeners not to dance.

{full story below}

It’s rare when a gang of musicians into a decidedly old-school sound find themselves embraced by Canada’s indie scene. Yet Gypsophilia manage to straddle such boundaries ably, as evidenced recent work with Howard Bilerman (Arcade Fire, Stars, Belle Orchestre) who produced their most recent full-length album, Constellation (2011). Gypsophilia all play with a plethora of other bands from swing to klezmer to reggae, a hallmark of Halifax’s rich, friendly scene. They can accompany orchestras, or, as violinist Gina Burgess can attest, back major rap acts (Burgess played a show with Kanye West).

“We’re a band who plays clubs, not gigs at a jazz restaurant. We started off putting on these dance parties, running the bar, producing our own shows,” sometimes as costumed fans danced until they dropped. “We’re more youth-oriented, though often people don’t think of jazz and instrumental and nostalgic stuff as being youth music. To us, it’s alive and vivacious and kinetic, not some static museum piece,” Burns notes.

The life Gypsophilia breathe (and strum and squeeze) into what may feel like a potentially stolid style is palpable, whether they are tripping through swinging, sprightly tributes to Paris subway stops (“Bir Hakeim”) or waltzing through bittersweet tributes to feisty centenarians (“Oh My Oma”). They feel no qualms about adding a dash of Brazilian percussion (which Burns has played for years since training in capoeira) or melodica (concert pianist and computer science professor Sageev Oore’s rollicking contribution). The group often finds themselves accidental travellers, tempted to gleefully unite disparate sonic fascinations. Take the EP title track, “Horska.”

“We stumbled into it, eliding a hora and a ska tune that Alec [Frith, one of the band’s guitarists] was writing,” recalls Burns fondly. “It happened spontaneously at a sound check for a masquerade ball. Everyone was wearing these ridiculous costumes, getting ready for what we knew what was going to be a crazy night, and we just started smashing things together. The musical joke or experiment was playing the same melody in these two different rhythmic contexts and going back and forth and exploring how that could be exciting.”

It’s not just jazz fans, or nostalgia addicts, who find the results exciting. Gypsophilia’s audience runs the gamut, from listeners who lived during the swing era to hip kids hearing gypsy jazz for the first time. “Some people have a nostalgic association, and are long-time fans of jazz or Django. But there are lots of people who just like how it sounds. Our music hits that eclectic, cool chord for them. It feels like A sneak attack at every point, no matter who we play for.”

Though the music’s tempo can be bracing, and the band’s no-holds-barred approach demanding, Gypsophilia have found a lightness and ease on stage that prevents over-intellectualized virtuosity for its own sake, or mere musical preciousness. They make music for good times, fueled by camaraderie and wit.

“There’s a real whimsy that drives our work,” muses Burns. “We make the best music we can, but we just have such a good time. We just really drive each other to do better, but not in a heavy-handed way. It’s just really enjoyable. We wouldn’t still be in a band if we were better musicians but worse friends.”

<< release: 06/01/13 >>