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Published: 2005/08/08
by Jesse Jarnow

Mehanata: New York Gypsymania – various artists

Bulgarian Culture Center

Regardless of the fact that I've been hanging out with Science Boy lately — which inevitably leads me into, shall we say, situations — there really does seem to be something afoot. Science Boy is a clarinetist, see, and over the past week, he has directly or indirectly caused me to witness 1.) a 50something piece ragtag marching band (led by Sex Mob’s Kenny Wollesen) stomp about Prospect Park, 2.) an entirely different marching band (Extra Action), whose numbers I couldn’t discern because they were too interspersed with the revelers, cram into a furnace of tiny-ass Williamsburg room in scanty clothing and accompanied by burlesque-attired cheerleaders with analog-tape pom-poms, and 3.) a tribute to Walt Whitman and PT Barnum (performed in a different Brooklyn park) with live accompaniment by Eastern European and Appalachian folk musicians.

Somewhere in the melee, I acquired a copy of Mehanata: New York Gypsymania, a two-disc/13-act compilation of the latest and greatest from the boroughs’ hippie-punk underground and captures the spirit which binds the aforementioned performances together. There are varying definitions of "gypsy" here. Some, like Yuri Yunakod ("Balkanalia," "Arabski Kjuchek") and Romashka ("La Circuma De La Drum," "Shimdiggy") are fairly literal. Others, like the hip-hop influenced Balkan Beat Box ("Adir Adirim") and Luminescent Orchestrii ("She’s a Brick," "Tarat Hijacked"), the ska-informed Gogol Bordello ("Baro Foro," "When the Trickster Stars A-Poking"), and the man-they-listened-to-a-lotta-Tom-Waits Dolomites ("Medecine [sic] Show," "Lizzie Borden") are less so.

The musicians — a cross-pollinating community of horn blowers, percussionists, string players, and plain enthusiasts — seem, on some level, quite scholarly about what they do. It's almost a necessity in a genre so virtuosic. The bargain — as long as they're precise and practiced — is that the spirit of the music allows for sloppiness. In fact, it almost encourages a few brown notes and grooves that are more atmospheric than precise. The Hungry March Band ("Bubamara," "Choili Ke Peechhe") embodies this. Their arrangements ring with high school band geek perfection and 20something lust: a simmering fusion of brain, body, and soul.

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