Occidentally on Purpose
(self-released, 1999)

I'm not usually a huge fan of "gypsy" music.

That said, I was rather swept away by the recording debut of Gypsophilia, a trio born of Renaissance faire shows and gypsy dance performances. The music, both the style and exceptionally crisp playing, drew me in and swept me along for the ride.

The man behind the music is Scott Robinson, who arranged the majority of tunes on the 12-track CD, wrote a few of them, and produced the recording. He also plays the tenor English concertina and adds a layer of percussion throughout, and there can be no complaints about the intricacy and professionalism of his performance. He knows what he is doing, of this there can be no doubt!

But it was violinist Claudia Harrison who kept me engrossed through multiple repeats of the album. She stands out from a fine ensemble with exceptional violin virtuosity, swirling through lush and lively tunes and artful dissonances with the grace of a dancer.

Francis Koiner rounds out the trio with an elegant cello performance, filling in the gaps with harmonies and counter-melodies on the lower register which add depth and detail to the sound. The album also features two guests artists: Deborah Justice on hammered dulcimer and Nathan Roberts on guitar.

There is certainly plenty of variety here, from the wild and lilting "Sano Dusa/Kalamatiano," a merger of Serbian and Greek tunes, to the ponderous, foreboding "Aivaliotikos/Galani Galaziani," also from Greece, and the slow, stately "Oglan Oglan," a traditional Turkish piece. The Bosnian tune "Sota" is probably my favorite here, beginning with a slow melody on the dulcimer before kicking into a lively repeating melody which fades out to give each musician time in the spotlight for solo improvisations.

Some of this stuff was obviously written with dancing in mind, and Gypsophilia wrings every last bit of emotion from the melodies. Robinson's original tunes fit well among the traditional pieces; he's managed to capture the right mood and technique, and his tunes could probably pass for natives.

OK, so I'm usually a sucker for the Irish tunes and English pub songs which are the mainstay of Renaissance faires across the country. But Gypsophilia hooked me with something very different from the norm, and I suspect they'll hook you, too.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

Contact Scott Robinson to order Occidentally on Purpose