by John Stoehr
I left the concert last night by Florin Niculescu feeling like I wanted to give back to the world, because I had been given so much. The gypsy jazz violinist from Paris was equal parts showman, virtuoso, and cut-up, though he didn't speak English much. He even kidded the audience about speaking French (for the record: there was flurry of oui from the audience).
His virtuosity was evident from the start. He has full command of jazz styles mostly in the vein of Grappelli and Reinhardt without seeming to disrespect either. In particular, his "Nuages," the most famous Grappelli-Reinhardt song, was sweet and restrained and just a little bit coy. Niculescu is a world-class kidder, putting you on just to delight you with something delightfully unexpected.
His showmanship didn't emerge until a few tunes into the set (there was just one last night at the Charleston Music Hall). Niculescru's heavy brows, deep-set eyes, and olive skin remind me of the old Italian guys who worked the steel mills in my native Buffalo. They bore the world on their shoulders and considered it a good day if the snow plows got through that morning. So instinctively I didn't expect any smiles from Florin.
But these came later and with them, you could see the joy in his eyes, and the knowledge that no matter how much suffering there is in the world, no matter how much injustice and unfairness and questions like how could this happen and how could this be, this thing we have right now between us captured simply in a smile, this is what the world can be like. And you can take it for granted.
"You're welcome," Florin told us. "Of course."