Os Ciganos

Thursday night 5/2/02

By Amy Briggs


A little while ago, if you'd asked me to add "weekday night" to "going out" to "Preston Avenue," I would've summed it to "No thank you." Around those parts, I'd always figured the streambed of interest dried up after five. 
But I was proved wrong last Wednesday when I happened upon a small pocket of midweek multiculturalism. Os Ciganos do Mar, the Gypsies of the Sea, played their somewhat-established and long-overlooked weekly gig at El Girasol (the Sunflower).  
The names of both band and restaurant brought to mind images of blue skies and seas, yellow waves of flowers and dunes… and being such a sucker for summer, I was pretty optimistic upon arrival. 
Fortunately for me, the sunset was long, the food was great, and the band exceeded all expectations. After a series of small frustrations in 1) determining the time signature, 2) figuring out the words, and 3) following the chords, I gave up and enjoyed the flow, as well as my fajita (the taste factor was working for both). 
The informal ambience in El Girasol was also very nice. At first, I was a little apprehensive at being seated in one of the last two available chairs, which happened to be three feet away from the band. But percussionist Ken Hutton, who shared my table with his triangle and maracas, put me at ease with his grinning amiability. 
Striking their first notes at dusk, Os Ciganos transported the crowd with colorful folk from across the Americas, shuttling their loom between Brazilian classics, Colombian favorites, and old-time tunes from here at home.
Each member of the group spoke in the grammar of his/her instrument. Fingers flew and voices trilled with top-notch mastery. I'd seen most of them before, here and there, providing jazz to smattering applause at local eateries, as well as standing ovations in Old Cabell Hall. I'd heard Estela Knott's soulful vox at Tokyo Rose, and Ken Parille and Dave Berzonsky (guitarist and upright bassist) were two reasons I started attending the UVA Jazz Ensemble performances years ago. 
This, however, was my first time to see Christen Hubbard, a master at the mandolin, and Carla Shifflett, who, in addition to lilting the ballads, also showed her stuff on the cajon, a boxlike Peruvian hand drum. 
One of the best qualities about Os Ciganos do Mar is their tight, interlocking musicianship. The songs often contained rhythmic breaks, in which the band cleanly snapped into clamshell silence before resuming on cue. Solos, well-timed and equally shared, showcased everybody's talents. Their combinatory effect was astounding. 
Os Ciganos pulled it together, and with style. They have the inteligência musical, and I hope they go far.

Rita Dove & George Francois
Sunday, April 28, 2002

By Damani Harrison

It takes a very special occasion to get me into a collared shirt and tie. Sunday was one of those occasions. Region Ten hosted a fundraising concert to earn money for their mental retardation services. At $50 a ticket, it was sure to be a well-to-do event featuring Pulitzer Prize-winner and former Poet Laureate Rita Dove accompanied by George Francois. The list of awards and accolades pianist Francois has received is as impressive as it is long. I was honored to be able to watch such influential and talented individuals perform.
The show began with Dove singing a few classic choral pieces accompanied by Francois on piano. Dove sang remarkably well and with captivating poise. The soft-spoken Francois’ true versatility became apparent in his few solo pieces, which were emotionally stirring and masterfully executed. As I sat staring at his hands dancing across the keys, it was evident that he is truly a master of his craft.
After a short intermission, Dove read from her poetry. Dove is a gifted poet whose simplest subjects reveal universal insights. Particularly affecting are the poems “Canary,” “Chocolate,” and “Testimony.”
The second musical portion of the show lacked the impact of the first. The microphone and speakers weren’t made to handle a voice as strong as Dove’s. Luckily, the sexual innuendoes in “My Handyman” and the stirring lyrics of “Cry Me A River” were able to distract my attention from the shoddy electronics.
After the performance, the audience was treated to music by the John D’earth Quintet featuring Francois on piano, and a delicious reception. I couldn’t think of a more pleasant way to spend a Sunday evening. As much time as I spend listening to modern and progressive music, it was an inspiring change to be completely submerged for a few hours in the classics. I even left my tie on for the entire car ride home.