Did you ever see a band that was so ridiculously cool that you really wanted to know what bar they were going to after the show? That you just assumed takes a mobile music party with them everywhere they go, onstage or off?
Roby Lakatos and his Gypsy band are just such an ensemble. From the moment they took the stage the night of March 19 for the Savannah Music Festival -- the band in black outfits redolent of 19th century Europe, Lakatos himself in red leather pants and sequined jacket, sporting white curly locks and a handlebar moustache -- you got an instant, electric rock star vibe that foreshadowed the intense music to follow.
The program notes give but the tiniest glimpse into the experience: Legrand, Piazzola, Fats Waller, Cosma, Morricone. But in truth each tune morphed into one big, sweeping, swelling, dramatic, hyper-kinetic Gypsy rave that had the audience giving frequent standing ovations.
Lakatos' band of hip young musicians played with abandon, taking frequent solos jazz-style, with the fiddle master himself displaying fire and mastery so gripping, so enervating, that it was easy to see why great violinists of previous ages were often thought to be possessed by the devil.
Lakatos, quite simply, is amazing to behold. He brought out a mighty arsenal of fiddle showmanship spanning the gamut: During his fast solos, in which he plays over a dozen notes a second, his wrist is the only part of his right arm that moves. During slow sections, his robust sustain and vibrato pulse the notes into the deepest recesses of the theatre.
He played an entire extended solo purely pizzicato, including Van Halen-style finger tapping. Another solo was nothing but harmonics up and down the neck.
At all times Lakatos and company displayed the cocky camaraderie you see with any great jazz ensemble, Lakatos nodding each soloist into action and the band watching each other's eyes for improvisational cues.
While I don't think anyone on earth could ever upstage Lakatos, one member of his band came close. Lakatos introduced Jeno Lisztes as "the best cimbalom player in the world," and you soon learned the unimpeachable accuracy of this statement. (A cimbalom is sort of a large European hammered dulcimer.)
Lisztes played a long, rhythmic, energetic solo piece by the great Romanian Gypsy musician Grigoras Dinicu called "Hora di Marc." Seated and hammering away at his instrument like a crazed blacksmith, Lisztes prompted a theatre-wide spontaneous standing ovation while the final note was still ringing.
Opening for Lakatos was the Brazilian classical guitar duo The Assad Brothers. If your taste for classical guitar duos has been ruined by certain bad New Age/World Music acts, the Assads are the cure for what ails you.
The key to their music's beauty is in the arrangements, which work apart but also in unison to make a seamless, aurally compelling sound image.
While Brazilian, as their name indicates the Assads are partially of Middle Eastern origin. The highlight of their show came with the final piece, an original composition that combined all the great influences on classical guitar repertoire: Flamenco from the western Mediterranean, classical from Italy and northern Europe, and Arabic scales from the eastern Mediterranean.