The Gipsy Kings of Arles have popularized a particular form of French Rumba Flamenca as one of the many forms in which the Gipsies known as Rom, Manouche, Sinti and Tzigane express themselves musically depending on what region they've settled in over the centuries. In pre-war Paris, Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli invented a style known as Gipsy Swing or Jazz Manouche, the only Jazz idiom to have originated outside the United States. It enjoys a loyal following to this day not just in France but also faraway Norway. Turkish/Greek/Armenian Tsifeteli and Kef flavors enjoyed their own club scene on New York's Eighth Avenue during the 1950s while modern-day Bulgarian wedding music à la Ivo Papasov is a frenetic amplified phenomenon that caused none other than Frank Zappa to dub it the perfect antidote for corporate executive stagnation. No matter how you dice this wild root of Indian origins, Gipsies are responsible for some of the most liberated, emotional and unhinged virtuoso music extant and thus make up a large portion of my favorite listening fare.

Some of the best Django Reinhardt-style guitarists still very much alive and jamming are Romane, Angelo Debarre, Jimmy Rosenberg, Stochelo Rosenberg, Bireli Lagrène, Jon Larsen, Joscho Stephan, Frank Vignola and Tchavolo Schmitt. For fiddlers, remember Florin Niculescu, Nedim Nalbantoglu and Mark O'Connor. For accordionists, think Roberto de Brasov and Ionica Minune.

Instrumental: Romane, Stochelo Rosenberg, Angelo Debarre, Tchavolo Schmitt
  • Romane & Stochelo Rosenberg - Élégance | Iris Music 3001 836 - The perhaps best album of dueling Gipsy guitars ever recorded; as smmmmmokin' as it gets.
  • Romane & The Frederic Manoukian Orchestra | Iris Music 3001 851 - Django Reinhardt always dreamt of fronting a full Big Band orchestra but fate never conspired to grant his wish. His spiritual heir Romane pulls off this unprecedented stunt with fireworks going off left and right.
  • Angelo Debarre - Caprice | HotClub de Norway 116 - Includes the phenomenal Jazz pianist Botan Zulfikarpasic in an all-star line-up.
  • Tchavolo Schmitt - Alors?... Voilà! | Iris Music 3001 831 - The only recording of this legendary master who has since traded Paris for a large Gipsy encampment in Strasbourg.

Instrumental: Jimmy Rosenberg, Frank Vignola, Mark O'Connor, Joscho Stephan
  • Django Reinhardt Festival - Live at Birdland | Atlantic 83498-2 - A live recording that combines major one-upmanship by Jimmy Rosenberg with an electrified audience and Regine Carter standing in on fiddle
  • Mark O'Connor, Frank Vignola and Jon Burr - Hot Swing! - Omac Records 4 - The title says it all, hot damn.
  • Joscho Stephan - Django Forever | Acoustic Music Records 319.1301.242 - Germany's brightest, with an inhuman technique, perfect intonation and the kind of precision his French peers lack.
  • Bireli Lagrène - Gypsy Project | Dreyfus Jazz 36626-2 - One of the old-timers returns to his roots.

The hands-down best Gipsy ensemble of them all is actually not composed of Gipsies although these fellows play the most varied forms of music by incorporating Gipsy styles from France, Germany, Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Poland, Russia and the Kletzmer repertoire. This group is called Bratsch. Anything by Bratsch is worthwhile but I'll list just one album I like best. I Gitanos are the actual descendants of Django Reinhardt but play a very different style that's far less Jazz-oriented and heavy on vocals and popular appeal. Café Noir and Pearl Django are two US formations dedicated to preserving Gipsy Swing in the colonies, with Café Noir incorporating Russian Tzigane influences while the Seattle-based Pearl Django is Django-lite but very charming.

Instrumental: Bratsch, I Gitanos, Café Noir, Pearl Django
  • Bratsch - Rien Dans Les Poches | Network 29.667 - The raw essence of the Gipsy spirit; a bona fide desert island pick if ever there was one.
  • I Gitanos - Ab I Reisa | Intuition/NubaNegra 3239-2 - Zigeunerweisen.
  • Café Noir - The Waltz King | Carpe Diem 31012-2 - Very French-Russian, very romantic, very Weltschmerz.
  • Pearl Django - Under Paris Skies | Modern Hot Records 006 - Parisian laissez-faire at its best.

Thrace, the Carpathian mountains and all of Romania are the heartland of the Slavic Rom who have embraced the cymbalom, violin and panflute on one side of the territory and the accordion, violin, clarinet, saxophone and drums on the other, with full-on brass bands yet another flavor. By the time you move towards Greece and Turkey, think belly-dance inspired rhythms and oud, ney and qanun.

Russian/Romanian: Djelem, Charivari Trio, Arbat, Loyko
  • Djelem | Koch International 5013 - Some of the most mournful Russian singing imaginable.
  • Charivari Trio - Hora Sentimental | Channel Crossings 12598 - Concertized Romanian folk music.
  • Arbat - Drom | Buda Musique 82955-2 - The Russian Bratsch.
  • Loyko - Gipsy Times for Nunja | Network 37.993 - Violin wizardry from Russia.

Bulgarian/Turkish: Ivo Papasov, Nedim Nalbantoglu, Robert de Brasov, Balkan Messengers, Gypsy Fire
  • Ivo Papasov - Balkanology | Hannibal 1363 - The grand master of Bulgarian wedding music and monster clarinetist sans pareil - also look for Yuri Yunakov, his saxophone player since based in the US.
  • Nedim Nalbantuglu/Robert de Brasov Trio - L'Odeur du Vent | Al Sur 248 - Another desert island pick of Grappelli meets Charlie Parker and Bartok. Challenging Jazz fare.
  • Balkan Messengers | Kalan 222 - Only for the truly daring; Fusion Jazz on frenetic Macedonian rhythms.
  • Gipsy Fire | CrossRoads 4272 - Concertized belly-dance music.

Bulgarian/Romanian: BeshodroM, Formatta Valea Mare, Nicolae Gutsa, Ljiljana Buttler
  • BeshdroM - Nekemtenemmutogato! | Asphalt Tango 0203 - Modern Gipsy Fusion including Rap.
  • Formatta Valea Mare - Departe de Casa | m.a. recordings 060A - Blatty Gipsy brass.
  • Nicolae Gutsa | La grande voix tzigane d'aujourd'hui | Silex Y225058 - The most famous male Gipsy vocalist
  • Ljiljana Buttler - The Mother of Gypsy Soul | Snail Records 50010 - The title is no mere propaganda; Rumanian mourna, Slavic saudade, a Gypsy version of Cesaria Evora.

This selection hardly begins to do justice to the profound legacy the Gipsies have left us - we've overlooked famous ensembles like Taraf de Haikous and Aksak, the various pan flute virtuoso like Gheorge Zamfir and Ulrich Herkenhoff, never mind the cymbalom/violin maestros and orchestras or the Parisian musette or Yiddish Klezmer scenes but once you've dipped your toes into our generally unknown waters this far, you are well on your way to incurable addiction. And that, if I may say so, would be a little sumthin' sumthin' I'd take devious pleasure in. Pass it around then - Bavo Devel. If you're not sure, start with Bratsch. If that doesn't grab you, you've unfortunately been vaccinated against the Gypsy virus for good and should move on before spending more money than on one single tester album...