The downside -- or it may well be the upside -- of this British release is that members of established audiences who buy it probably won't get what they expect. It's an exuberant piece of work that fearlessly combines kinds of musicians that likely have never been put together before. Gypsy Strings is far from a traditional recording of gypsy music -- it's way too arranged for that, and it gives the strings of the London Concertante a lot to do. Yet it's not gypsy music arranged for classical or light-classical ensemble, either. The focus is squarely on the two violinists, Britain's Adam Summerhayes (also known for his work with the experimental crossover ensemble ZUM) and Bulgaria's Emil Chakalov. Both are classically trained, yet both have roots music in their backgrounds, and there is improvisation going on at every level of the performance. The pieces mix traditional tunes with original compositions by Summerhayes (track 5, The Lark, is by Grigoras Dinicu, who also wrote Hora Staccato), but the compositional element from Summerhayes is more akin to what a jazz composer like Bill Evans does to composition than in the classical sense: he proposes sets of elements for the players to work with, providing in most cases the framework of an arrangement. Improvisation can, and does, jump over the ostensible boundaries of the work at any time. Summerhayes brings a lot of jazz to gypsy music, and of course he is not the first to attempt that combination. But he never falls into a well-established groove of gypsy swing; he pushes the music into odd forms and spectacular string-orchestra accompaniments. Sample the little Last Train to Barking for an idea of the madly pour-spices-into-the-pot atmosphere here: the piece is blues, set to a traditional Bulgarian wedding dance rhythm (in 11/16 time, no less), with a sort of punk energy and a string section that seems to force simpler rhythms across the patterns laid down by the two solo violins -- all in a minute and 50 seconds. The whole album is a lot of fun -- maybe too much fun for some listeners who will find it a bit overstuffed, but never dull in the least.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim