I already knew that Gypsophilia was Halifax’s premiere party band, but what I didn’t know was that Stevie Wonder once opened for them. Yes, that’s right, at the 2009 Montreal Jazz Fest, Stevie Wonder played the opening outdoor show on the first night, and Gypsophilia played on the same stage the second night. So, you know, in a manner of speaking, the king of soul sorta kinda opened for the Halifax fusion-gypsy-jazz-klezmer-swing-Brazilian-reggae seven-piece. At least that’s the way Ross Burns tells it.
Gypsophilia is nothing if not humorous — front man Ross repeatedly had to remind the audience that Saturday night’s show at Upstairs was not actually a standup routine. Not that we really needed reminding. The music was brimming with a contagious energy that had the audience dancing even while seated in the tiny sold-out venue. If you missed the weekend show, be sure to check them out at Divan Orange on Thursday so that you can actually dance while standing up, which promises to be more effective. Because Gypsophilia just wants everyone to have a good time, and usually that’s easier to do on a dance floor.
Despite the many influences apparent in the band’s music, their sound is uniquely their own. Gina Burgess’s virtuosic fiddling provides a perfect counterpoint to Matt Myer’s equally accomplished trumpet playing; Adam Fine works the double bass in his baby blue plaid suit and bowtie; and the three guitarists Alec Frith, Nick Wilkinson, and Ross Burns take turns playing rhythm and soloing (one member, Sageev Oore, wasn’t able to make it to Montreal). But really it’s the assorted percussion instruments, played by Ross, that seal the sound. Who knew that the tambourine was so versatile, or that the Afro-Brazilian berimbau sounded so cool. And how did I make it through all those years of music school and music fandom and never encounter a Brazilian cuica?! This unassuming little drum expresses every possible human emotion, according to Ross. But here’s the great thing about it: it expresses them by means of a nipple, a stick, and a wet rag. I mean really, why would anyone ever make music without this special little drum?
Each tune has its own feel, from the swinging “Montreal,” an homage to our fair city in the 30s, to the klezmery “Insomniac’s Dream,” written by Burgess, to the bluesy and beautiful “Sara and Agricola,” about an intersection in Halifax where two lovers must decide which way to go. References to 80s pop tunes are hidden at the heart of some numbers, while others may remind you of songs you think you know but can’t quite identify. The one thing that ties it all together is the members’ love of music and performing and engaging the audience, keeping it real while the world spins round.
Gypsophilia played Upstairs Jazz Bar and Grill Saturday November 15. They play at Divan Orange (4234 St. Laurent Blvd) as part of Mundial Montreal Thursday November 20 at 4:20p.m. Free.