Kenny Chesney has joined a campaign to supply people suffering from Alzheimer's with…
- Posted on May 24th 2011 2:00PM by Steve Hochman
But all Weigl experienced was exhilaration.
"All I need to tell you is it was a packed audience and people loved it," she tells Spinner. "You could feel it from the very vivid response, but also because they all stayed until the very end -- and the whole show was almost three hours long. It was the first time I sang almost 30 tunes the same evening, and to be honest I didn't feel tired or exhausted or anything."
All in all, it's a sensible way for Weigl to present her music given that the roots of it and the very term she embraces for it are associated with wandering and displacement: Gypsy.
"For me, it was the only possible translation of this kind of music, which is called in Romanian 'lautari,'" says Weigl, who was born and raised in a Bucharest neighborhood in which Roma -- the people known as Gypsies -- were a common presence, often harassed by police and held in suspicion and disdain. That sense of both romance and injustice stuck with her as she moved to Germany as a teen to live with her aunt (who had been married to Bertolt Brecth!) and study theater and later to New York, where she has been since the early 1990s.
It's right there in the title of her new album, 'Gypsy in a Tree,' with her own very distinct takes on mostly traditional songs from Romania, many drawing on the repertoire of Maria Tanase, one of the country's most beloved singers from the early and mid 20th century. But as you'd guess from the way she approached her New York concert, which celebrated the release of the album, Weigl invests it with her own artistically wandering ways. Check out 'Jandarmul,' which she learned from a Tanase recording, here treated with a combination of theatricality (that Brecht connection, perhaps), free jazz (that Coleman connection, undoubtedly) and an air at once arty and earthy (that's all Weigl), accompanied by the Japanese musicians, as is the case throughout the album.
"This is not a very well-known song," she explains. "Maria Tanase sang this in the 1930s when she was really young, but never again. I found it on an old record. I loved the song very much, Very light and tender song."
Tanase might not recognize it in this form, though.
"As always, when we started working on it, it just happened," she says. "We like the free improvisation style. That's how we recorded it: improvised. I think that works. At the beginning I am whispering some parts of the Bible. Some can hear it. I know what I said, in Romanian of course. When I do live concerts I whisper all kinds of things. It's a song about a policeman coming along, riding on a horse, and this girl is walking barefoot and asks him to take her on the horse because her feet are hurting. He refuses, saying the horse is too young to carry two people and he's riding a way and cursing him, saying 'I wish it could be a big rain and make all the paths muddy so you cannot keep riding and the horse will stumble and you will also have to go barefoot home.' Not nice? Yeah, but understandable."
Let's back up for a minute, though. Japanese musicians?
"It was, like many things in New York, a coincidence," she says. "I moved to New York 18 years ago, but at first I was still working with my group from Germany. They came here, I went there, until I realized it didn't work. Then I started working with Anthony Coleman and these musicians. One day, I met Satoshi Takeishi and played with him. Then he introduced me to Shoko, his wife, a great pianist, and then his brother [bassist Stomu Takeishi]. It was amazing. It worked so well. Then we had a concert in Harvard and the students asked the pianist how come the Japanese musicians know how to play Romanian gypsy music. They said they are in fact a lot of similarities between the so-called Japanese folk music and this Romanian music. And she started playing some of the Japanese music and, to my big surprise, it sounded so similar! They have this also in their blood. That's how the music works, over borders and oceans."
That allows a great deal of variety on the album. Such tracks as 'Saraiman,"' which she learned from the repertoire of Romanian singer Romica Puceanu, is a fairly straight gypsy song, the arrangement centering on accordion played by Shoko Takeishi.
Another Puceanu-sourced piece, 'Nu Exista-N Lumea Asta,' shows a very different side, though. With the booming tuba of guest Ben Stapp providing the beat and bottom, the performance has the European art-drama tone that links her Romanian childhood with her German theater years (and, of course, Brecht association) with the modern Manhattan experimentalism.
"This is a very specific Gypsy song," she says. "I heard it from Romica Puceanu. She was amazing. And she wrote all the words, though didn't write as much as improvise. Different recordings have different words! She was always improvising. The arrangement for this song was made by Anthony Coleman. We used that. He did a fantastic job. Stayed pretty close to the original, the core of the song. The words mean 'there is no one in the world like my brother.'"
Given all this, the oddest pairing of her record release-a-thon concert might not be the Japanese, the jazzers or even the rock band -- a young group she'd invited to come one of her concerts after seeing them as part of a play. It might have been with the Romanians. She'd met them earlier this year at the annual Golden Festival, focusing on Balkan music, in New York "because, of course, New York has everything."
She'd never been invited before because the focus was on traditional music. But this year, a group led by trumpeter Emil Bizga had heard her music and requested that she be asked to perform with them. The combination worked unexpectedly well, with Weigl bringing the musicians into new territories that added art-song sensibilities to their traditional chops, while they brought her closer to the Romanian songs that were, after all, the first music she heard in her childhood neighborhood in Bucharest.
It was a rewarding detour on her wanderings, and now she's ready for more. Among her upcoming plans is a trip to a book fair in Guadalajara, Mexico, to do a music-and-reading performance with Romanian-born author Herta Muller, who won the 2009 Nobel Prize for literature and invited Weigl to be the official performer at the ceremony. And Weigl and the Japanese musicians will be doing a recording project of music by Kurt Weill (Brecht's frequent collaborator) and cabaret performances built around that material at various Manhattan clubs and performance spaces, culminating in July with a performance at the United Nations.
"Since I'm such a globalizer, that's a good place for me to be invited," she says proudly, pausing to consider the terminology. "Globalizationiser? How would you say that?"