As many of you know, the Rhythm and Roots Festival in Charlestown, RI offers dozens of top international artists on the main stage, American roots "movers and shakers" on the heritage stage, Cajun and zydeco icons on the dance stage and family activities on the VSA Arts family stage over labor day weekend. However, one of the lesser-known secrets of the festival, are the intimate, performance-based workshops offered throughout Saturday and Sunday on the stage bearing that name, and free to all festival-goers.
Occidental Gypsy is a Boston-based quintet playing gypsy jazz/pop fusion with a strong dose of danceable, gypsy swing rhythms. Recently, I sat down with the band and discussed their recent work developed since the release of their 2011 CD Over Here (Independent).
On summer respite since wrapping their national CD release tour, the band has been developing some new instrumental and lyrical songs. The two-part "Song for Vrba," written and performed by Occidental Gypsy was recently performed at the Katherine Hepburn Center for the Arts in Connecticut, and has just been made available online via soundcloud (free streaming version of song is here).
Talking with the band, we get to hear a little more about this new song, and how its musical themes represent a historically significant event. The story behind this cinematic composition is about Rudolph Vrba, a prisoner who successfully escaped The Auschwitz Concentration Camp during World War II. Vrba was able to escape despite numerous obstacles and make his way to Budapest. Instead of going into hiding (which was his safest choice), Rudolph went to the Jewish Council and told them of the atrocities he witnessed and the tens of thousands of murders occurring daily. It is estimated that because of his actions, Rudolph Vrba saved as many as 200,000 Hungarians and people the Nazis considered "not fit for life."
The composition was written, and is performed, in two distinct parts. The first is titled #44070, which was the number tattooed on Rudolf Vrba's forearm in Auschwitz. While the entire piece is a memorial to Mr. Vrba, this introductory segment honors all those who had been disfigured and dehumanized during in what was referred to by Nazis as "the final solution." The second part of the song picks up the pace... still a bit despairing and mysterious, but much faster and with greater instrumentation and verve. This part of the song musically explores the challenges and drama of such an heroic escape, and further explores the musical themes that were presented as melodic wisps at in part one. Listening to the full piece, one feels the gamut of what Vrba's experience may have been and culminates in auditory inspiration.
Occidental Gypsy was originally formed by brothers Brett (lead guitar) and Jeff Feldman (bassist) as a straight-ahead Gypsy Jazz Quartet. Through the release of Over Here and the addition of new members, the band has taken on a far more diverse, sophisticated, and eclectic sound. The group is fronted by Berklee trained singer and rhythm guitarist Scott (“Scottie”) Kulman, and supported by percussionist Erick Cifuentes of Guatemala and special guest Jason Anick (of the John Jorgenson Quintet) on violin.
Occidental Gypsy will be offering a performance workshop on Saturday, August 31, 2013 at 5:00 pm at the Rhythm and Roots Festival in Charlestown, RI. Tickets are available at the gate and festival entrance gives access to all workshops and performances offered from noon-midnight across all five festival stages.
Occidental Gypsy website: www.occidentalgypsy.com
Rhythm and Roots website: www.rhythmandroots.com