Nick Wilkinson raises his hand to block fellow guitar player Ross Burns' beard, and squints. The Gypsophilia boys are picturing what they'd look like with moustaches, only.
The new aesthetic is inspired by trumpet player Matt Myer, who shaved his beard to showcase his moustache. Now the three other bearded members have a dilemma: to shave or not to shave.
Deliberation ensues, including Wilkinson pondering whether his hair is thick enough to support the look, and guitar player Alec Frith considering styling his moustache "a la conquistador," is similar to their music-making process: One person throws out an idea, the other members go off on a tangent of inspiration, creating the structure of a song, or here, the makings of a new look.
The seven-piece gypsy jazz band of late-20 somethings (save for Sageev Oore, who is somewhere between 35 and 37) are releasing their sophomore album, Sa-Ba-Da-OW!.
The band started five years ago, when Wilkinson, a fan of gypsy-jazz father Django Reinhardt, posted a message on Craigslist seeking a guitar player to jam with. Frith responded and the rest is incestuous-Halifax-music-scene history. He invited some musicians he'd played with before to join: bass player Adam Fine and saxophone player Dani Oore (who also plays in a klesmer band with keyboard player Sageev Oore, who joined the band a year later), as well as Burns, who Frith plays with in reggae band Verbal Warnin' (as does Myer, who joined the band three years later).
When they landed a spot in the 2004 Atlantic Jazz Festival, the musicians pulled together a set, invited classically trained violinist Gina Burgess to play, and thought up a name for their band. The show was a success, and Gypsophilia quickly became known for live performances involving retro costumes and inducing dance parties.
Sa-Ba-Da-OW!---Myer came up the name to capture the language musicians speak to each other in---focuses more on showcasing their diverse musical talents than staying within the confines of gypsy jazz.
What would Django think?
"Django's into progressing," says Frith, who sports a goatee-like beard and moustache combo. "There's something stagnant about just focusing on trying to nail a genre. We're not denying ourselves other inspirations, which I think is more honest."
Dani Oore, who composed over half the songs on their first album Minor Hope, left for Europe while they wrote and recorded the second album. Myer's trumpet is a new addition to the band's sound; Fine trades his acoustic double-bass for an electric bass on a couple of tracks, and Sageev plays synths rather than a standard keyboard.
The album was recorded over three days at Echo Chamber studio with sound engineer Charles Austin, whereas the first album was recorded live in front of an audience. Though the band still played each track on Sa-Ba-Da-OW! during recording as they would in a show to capture live energy, they were free to take more chances knowing they could edit tracks. It's a tighter, more percussive and diverse sound.
Most of the 12 tracks start basic and build, switching some combination of rhythms, tempos or genres. "A-Oha" begins with a simple bass line that quickly turns into a klesmer hook, peppered with Brazilian tambourine shakes. The trumpet sings out loud, and a piano solo slows things down mid-way, placing you at a Parisian cafe before thrusting you back to your cousin's Bat Mitzvah for the refrain. "You Make Time" layers jazzy trumpet, violin and guitar over a reggae-like groove. There's no ego in this gypsy band. Instruments co-mingle like people linking arms in a dance circle, occasionally pushing someone to the centre before rejoining the group.
The moustache conversation has permeated plans for their CD release party at FRED, their last show before leaving on a tour of coast-to-coast Canadian jazz festivals. Burns suggests they draw moustaches on people's hands. Myer proposes a best moustache contest and Frith describes the prize: a moustache comb with a FRED-emblazoned logo.
"I like that," says Burns. "We'll get lawyers on how to divvy up the profits." And just like that, a new idea is born.
Gypsophilia CD release, June 19 and 20 at FRED, 2606 Agricola, 9pm, $11adv/$15 door.