Bucharest-born Sanda Weigl has been through an awful lot in her life. She weaves her countless experiences, the good and the bad, through the fabric of Gypsy in a Tree. Weigl’s new recording is as haunting as it is jubilant, remaining a steady and sure reminder of life dedicated to art and vice versa.
Her nickname, the Downtown Gypsy Queen of New York, about sums it up. Weigl’s personality, eclectic yet earthy, flows through each track. It moves like a spirit through the songs, engaging with the music of her Romanian roots and a surprising downtown sound that helps ground it in something tangible.
Weigl is also not afraid of being theatrical. She stops short of showing off for the sake of it, but her diction flows with grandiose gestures and flashes of light, creating a nearly cinematic backdrop.
Interestingly, Weigl’s band is comprised of Japanese musicians. This actually reinforces the gypsy feel of the music, believe it or not. Brothers Satoshi (percussion) and Stomu Takeishi (electric bass) are joined by Shoko Nagai (accordian, piano, Farfisa organ).
The title of the record comes the lautari of the early 20th century. These gypsy musicians were tasked with performing at ceremonies and weddings and the like, but they had to sit in the trees while they played lest their presence upset the guests. The notion of the “hidden musician” calls out from Weigl’s brisk, vigorous voice. She’s calling from the trees, unashamed but still somewhat obscured by the branches and leaves.
It’s this force, this groundswell of pride and power, that helps Gypsy in a Tree soar from the highest tips of the woods to the brightest lights of the stage. Weigl, after all, belongs front and centre.
The album is mostly packed with Roma traditionals, including the bold and hummable “Intr-o Zi La Poarta Mea” and the accordian-driven “Saraiman.”
“Toderel” is a particularly touching piece. The lyrics, translated in the liner notes thankfully, call out to the world. “But now that I’ve grown old, I am nothing but a nuisance to you,” Weigl offers over a sparse, enigmatic arrangement.
Gypsy in a Tree carries a sea of love and drinking songs, showcasing the universes of a wandering, incredible people in vivid colour and sound. Weigl’s voice soars, soaking every note in a sort of meandering magic that can’t help but captivate. With wonderful musicians, Weigl has created something universal in this record about discovering that elusive sliver of joy in trying times.