Occidental Gypsy – 44070

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Liam Wilkinson | Stars: 3/5

Fans of Django-brand jazz may already know Occidental Gypsy, either via the band’s stunning 2011 debut Over Here (which featured a superb Western Swing take on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”!) or by attending one of their utterly engaging live performances.  The New England quintet has been building a sturdy reputation as one of America’s foremost gypsy jazz bands for the best part of the last decade and their second full-length release 44070 provides another delectable slice of the pie.  There are some well-known numbers here, including a heart-warming version of “I’ll See You In My Dreams”, a take which benefits greatly from Jeff Feldman’s walking bassline, and a haunting rendition of the Reinhardt/Grappelli composition “Tears”.  The album concludes with a devastatingly beautiful version of Over the Rainbow which, thanks to the simple guitar/violin arrangement, nudges the song back into its rightful place after so many cheap efforts from other musicians over the years.  But despite some pretty beguiling covers, 44070 is at its impeccable best during the original compositions of the band’s guitarist Brett Lee Feldman.  “A Day With Paula May”, for example, presents a complex ramble through the enduring excitement of gypsy jazz whilst the adorably sweet “Messalina (Lover Lamb)”, with its restless rhythms and Eli Bishop’s intoxicating violin lines, lends the album some of its finest moments.  It’s very finest moment, however, comes right at the beginning; “44070/Song for Vrba”, the album’s opening track, is both a moving and exhilarating Feldman original that celebrates the story of Rudolph Vrba whose escape from Auschwitz in 1944 and subsequent writing of a detailed report on the mass murders at the concentration camp led to the saving of over 200,000 lives.  The track, like its subject matter, is nothing less than spellbinding.