Django Reinhardt: Mystery Pacific

Was “Mystery Pacific” Django Reinhardt’s personal tribute to Duke Ellington’s “Daybreak Express”? There’s not enough similarities to call one an arrangement of the other, but there’s also no doubt of the influence. “Mystery Pacific”’s opening is an obvious nod to “Daybreak” as is the simple harmonic structure and for that matter, the form of the entire piece. However, Django must have realized that he would never be able to re-create the many colors of the Ellington band with his small group. Instead, he and Stephane Grappelli created a new piece tailor-made for the QHCF, which is as evocative of an express train as Ellington’s. Reinhardt goes a step further than Ellington by including spots for improvised solos by himself and Grappelli. The violinist is his usual elegant self here during his solo, but don’t miss his Doppler effect background during Django’s solo. And I am constantly amazed at how Django got so much music out of a guitar when his fretting hand was so badly deformed.

March 15, 2009 · 0 comments


Mark O'Connor's Hot Swing Trio: Cherokee

American enthusiasts of the Hot Club Swing Revival all face the same challenge: where do you find a truly hot Gypsy jazz/hot-swing group this side of the Atlantic? If you're in New York, you have a few options, but none hotter than this sizzling trio, led by the smoldering Mark O'Connor, whose confident technique and chops evoke the spirit of Eddie South as well as that of Stéphane Grappelli. Captured live in a warm, clean and faithful recording, O'Connor delivers the goods with solid support by the remarkable Jon Burr and Frank Vignola, one of the best jazz guitarists in a town crawling with great jazz guitarists.

Mark O'Connor's accomplishments span several genres; his compositions have been performed by classical artists such as Yo-Yo Ma and Sharon Isbin, and have been choreographed by contemporary dance legends Alvin Ailey and Twyla Tharp. But his metamorphosis into a jazz violinist began with his discovery of swing fiddle pioneer Benny Thomasson, and continued under the tutelage of Stéphane Grappelli. Listening to this rendition of "Cherokee," it's obvious that his classical training and clear understanding of the Grappelli esthetic give him the power and depth to own this music. His authoritative lines soar effortlessly, never seeming frantic or edgy, even when playing at this breakneck tempo.

Guitarist Frank Vignola demonstrates a clear understanding and command of Djangospeak, but is as modern and deadly in his attack as Biréli, Angelo or Stochelo, his Sinti contemporaries across the pond. Even though the trio lacks a rhythm guitarist to provide a pompe platform during his solo, the playing here is so strong you don't really miss it.

My one complaint is that the track ends too soon. Still, this is a high-octane "Cherokee," all the more remarkable for being served up in a flawless live performance by a powerhouse jazz Manouche trio and a fiddler who is definitely off the roof.

January 27, 2009 · 1 comment


Billet-Deux: Four on Six

Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, the band Billet-Deux, which roughly translates into "two bills" (bills referring to paper money) is a unique collaboration of artists who have been inspired by the gypsy jazz traditions of guitarist Django Reinhardt and his Quintette du Hot Club de France cofounder violinist Stéphane Grappelli. In this more contemporary, sometimes bordering on new-age sounding edition of the Parisian café music of the past, we have the guitar musings of Troy Chapman and the somber emotion-filled cello of James Hinckley .

Having always been a big fan of anything Wes Montgomery, I was immediately attracted to "Four on Six" to see what these musicians could do with this fabulous swinger. I was not disappointed. As the group states the core melody line in seamless synchronicity, it is obvious that they have played together for some time. Hearing Hinckley's sober and solemn-sounding cello swing is surprisingly entertaining in a strange way. Chapman takes his turn with a guitar solo, briefly quoting from "My Favorite Things" for good measure. There is no overt show of virtuosity on display here, but rather a sincere effort to portray the music in a loving and unfettered way. It is the interacting of the whole that makes this work as a total concept, easy to listen to and ultimately enjoyable.

January 13, 2009 · 0 comments


Billet-Deux: Sarita

Billet-Deux is a unique string-oriented band with roots in the gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt. On Troy Chapman's original "Sarita," the opening refrain is a gently repeated guitar line that leads into the wistful and melancholy melody played to emotional perfection on James Hinckley's cello. Bennett's subtle hand percussion and Hunner's rhythm guitar work effectively together. Chapman delivers a complementary guitar solo with sensitivity and little flash, as he seems correctly more concerned with the overall group sound. "Sarita" is a pleasant excursion that doesn't challenge, but at the same time doesn't disappoint.

January 13, 2009 · 1 comment


Hot Club of San Francisco: Vendredi 13

Sometimes it's reassuring just to know there are artists out there who not only have the wisdom to avoid reinventing the wheel, but are willing to keep the wheel well oiled and firmly on the road. Enthusiasts of the Hot Club Swing Revival will be happy to know that, with this take on the Reinhardt classic "Vendredi 13" (Friday the Thirteenth), the prolific Hot Club of San Francisco has all the wheels on the Django wagon rolling at a comfortable pace.

After a solid, gutbucket intro by guest pianist Jeffrey Kahane, the Quintette settles into a swinging pompe propelling the spirited violin of Evan Price, one of the West Coast's top Gypsy jazz violinists. Guitarist Paul Mehling follows with crisp, flowing lines sounding fresh and spontaneous, reminding us why the Selmer- style acoustic guitar is such a guilty pleasure to hear. As any jazz guitarist making the stylistic transition from mainstream to jazz Manouche will tell you, this is easier to accomplish in theory than in practice.

A word of caution may be in order regarding the album as a whole: bebop enthusiasts will not find much familiar ground in this ambitious recording. But those with a sense of history will recognize the connection between modern jazz and impressionist music. In keeping with the album's theme, the addition of piano on "Vendredi 13" is a nod to Maurice Ravel. According to the Bohemian Maestro liner notes, the famed composer enjoyed listening to and occasionally sat in as pianist with Reinhardt and his Quintette du Hot Club de France. Lovers of the art of jazz who approach this music with an open mind may be gratified to rediscover some valuable and sometimes forgotten roots.

January 01, 2009 · 0 comments


Evan Christopher: Douce Ambience

You may not see much coverage of traditional jazz in the media (or even the jazz media, for that matter), but it is alive and well; and no sector of trad-ville is more vibrant than the gypsy caravan on the outskirts of town. Django has passed from jazz history and become a figure of mythic resonance: indeed, few jazz figures from before WWII have a more devoted following nowadays, or exert such a powerful ongoing influence on the current scene. ('s Bill Barnes will give you an insider's look at this subculture here.)

Clarinet is not a common instrument in this style of jazz performance, which is heavily tilted toward the strings. But you wouldn't know it from Evan Christopher's deliciously languorous approach to "Douce Ambience." He elicits a rich, smoky tone from his horn, and puts such a personal stamp on his melody statement that you don't even need to wait for the solos to appreciate that you are in the hands of a master stylist. But please do wait for the solos. Christopher & Co. work their taut phrases over a dark, tango-ish swing and with no wasted energy. Très douce.

November 29, 2008 · 0 comments


Ludovic and Kruno: Philadelphie Sur Seine

Kruno Spisic turned many heads when he debuted at Birdland's Django Reinhardt Festival in 2006, due to his crisp, lively and dead-accurate interpretation of Django's style. French accordion master Ludovic Beier was also on the bill, and the two hit it off big time. The following year Beier made the trip to Philadelphia to record this intimate album of swing, jazz, and traditional Eastern European numbers.

Some jazz fans still consider the Gypsy jazz movement to be a retro-nostalgia thing, much like the jitterbug craze. Likewise, there are those who, upon meeting an accordion, will instantly recall Frank De Vol playing bandleader Happy Kyne leading His Mirthmakers on that 1970s talk-show spoof, Fernwood 2Night, or "The Love Goddess" Judy Tenuta mugging with her squeezebox. If you find yourself in either camp, this recording is not for you. But you would be missing some superb music. Here we have a pairing of two virtuosic players in a seamless performance filled with warmth and passion. And, yes, the button accordion is indeed a serious jazz instrument, especially in the hands of Ludovic Beier. I would urge listening with open mind and heart.

This track is a bossa, but with a subtle difference: rather than the familiar Brazilian feel, one hears distinctive gypsy strumming in the rhythm section. The intuitive and respectful interaction between the two soloists is a perfect fit. Kruno's clean jazz Manouche technique applied to a gorgeous petite bouche acoustic guitar is like a fresh autumn breeze, while Ludovic's expressive accordion work evokes a romantic Left Bank café. I recommend serving this recording with a nice bottle of Châteauneuf du Pape or at least a decent pinot noir.

November 15, 2008 · 0 comments


Django Reinhardt: Ain't Misbehavin'

Grappelli states the melody with the effervescence and lighthearted swing that are his trademarks. Django starts his solo sluggishly here, and in the second eight bars either misses the chord or is trying for an unusual polytonal effect. But in the second chorus he takes flight, and dishes out choice phrases that build on very large interval jumps. Then come some wild and woolly guitar chords that sound—I kid you not—like a steam locomotive heading down the track. The band is so far out of the stratosphere by this point that they don't even reprise the melody. Forget the title—some serious misbehavin' is goin' down here.

October 22, 2008 · 0 comments


Jon Larsen: Nonstop

Hot Club Records, the Norwegian label founded by guitarist Jon Larsen, marks its 25th anniversary in 2008. Prominent on the European scene for decades, Larsen has played with jazz luminaries from Chet Baker to Stéphane Grappelli. As a leading proponent of the jazz Manouche genre, he has focused much of his company's recording activity on such Gypsy virtuosi as Jimmy Rosenberg and Angelo Debarre, as well as on his own group, Hot Club de Norvege. While Jon's enthusiastic support and encouragement of others might tempt us to take him for granted as a musician in his own right, The Next Step reminds us that, even in such lofty company, he can indeed hold his own.

This outing has Larsen wearing several hats, as a producer, leader and writer. Already known as a thoroughly seasoned Djanogoist, Jon demonstrates much more of his extensive musical vocabulary as he turns to more straight-ahead bop musings on "Nonstop." Though he is playing a gorgeous petite bouche Selmer-style acoustic guitar built by British luthier Doug Kyle, I hear more Burrell than Bireli in his playing. The ensemble comes out of the gate swinging hard and their ideas flow…well, nonstop. Very sure-footed stepping, whatever your stylistic preferences may be.

September 01, 2008 · 0 comments


The Rosenberg Trio: Rhythme Futur

Django Reinhardt's ground-breaking composition has always been a harried, disturbing glimpse into a chaotic future as well as a challenge for accomplished guitarists and seasoned jazz Manouche enthusiasts alike. A remarkable departure from Django's usual Hot Club fare, this number lives in a nightmare world on the edge of the modal universe. Whole-tone and Locrian-based phrases hit the listener at a breakneck tempo against a sinister flat-5 backdrop, with little comfort from an ascending flat-6 arpeggio bridge over very troubled waters.

Stochelo Rosenberg's performance at the 2003 Django Fest in Samois was remarkable in many ways, but his flawless, precise rendition of this difficult piece was a high point of the festival and, fortunately for us, has been captured in this marvelous recording.

August 14, 2008 · 0 comments


Stochelo Rosenberg: All The Things You Are

It doesn't matter how many times you may have heard or played this tune. Sinti phenomenon Stochelo Rosenberg has done the near-impossible, breathing new life into one of the most overworked numbers in the American Songbook, ironically with timeworn tools borrowed from the genres of classical, fusion and Gypsy jazz.

Right out of the gate, you know this isn't a standard version of Jerome Kern's popular warhorse. Following a unison intro worthy of Return to Forever, a Baroque-like extrapolation of the familiar theme sets up Stochelo's high-energy, staccato solo work. While staying within a disciplined framework of 16th notes, he muscles through some of the most challenging changes in the jazz repertoire with fire and intensity. Then, just when you thought there was nothing left to say, Mozes parts the Fret Sea and lets his fingers go. Swinging just enough to lull the senses into complacency, he quickly builds to a level of volatility equal to Stochelo's pyrotechnics.

I believe it was Robin Nolan who said, "We'll never catch up to the Gypsy guitarists." This track is a prime example of why this may be a truism. It's all the things we can only hope to be, and then some.

August 04, 2008 · 0 comments


Chriss Campion: Recado Swing

Djalma's bossa nova meets Django's swing in this djovial (ouch!) track, a lovingly crafted collaboration between producer Denis Chang, pillar of the Quebec Gypsy jazz scene, and Chriss Campion, one of France's rising Manouche guitar heroes. Heading the ensemble on violin is another brilliant young Parisian, the classically-trained Aurélien Trigo.

Chang's solid pompe lays the groundwork for the bounding, uplifting violin and guitar solos, both polished and refined examples of the resurgent Hot Club swing technique. Trigo's lush, flowing lines take flight over the crunchy, spirited rhythm, giving way to Campion's tantalizing Djangoisms, frequently popping off the strings with an air of wild abandon but never excessive or overplayed.

Campion's and Chang's playing are textbook examples of the right and proper way to approach Gypsy guitar. Jon Larsen's Hot Club Records has given us yet another stellar example of what makes this music so darn much fun for musicians and listeners alike.

August 01, 2008 · 0 comments


Django Reinhardt: Improvisation No. 2

The only solo piece on this CD finds Reinhardt doing what he does best. His explorations of melody and improvisation are legendary in the jazz canon, as borne out by this document. This is not a tossed-off bit of excess that Decca decided to release to pad a collection of outtakes. For all his blinding technique, this work finds the Belgian gypsy in a reflective mood, establishing a very cogent melodic statement right from the start. He then continues to elaborate and expand the thematic material for the rest of the recording. That said, there is a very definite structure to the piece that makes it difficult for me to envision it as completely off the cuff as one imagines an "improvisation" to be. I'm not complaining!

June 10, 2008 · 0 comments


Adrien Moignard: Impressions

Those unfamiliar with Django Reinhardt, "jazz Manouche" and its growing legion of Hot Club swing revivalists may want to play a little catch-up. The Django jazz movement has caught fire across the globe, with fans flocking to clubs, concert venues and Django festivals for their Gypsy jazz fix. Far from being a preservationist movement, the music is evolving with the times, as evidenced by the Selmer 607 project.

Five of the genre's top guitarists were chosen to record three tunes apiece on a 1946 Selmer petite bouche acoustic, model #607 (of the same linage as Selmer #503, Django's favorite guitar). Backed by the standard la pompe rhythm section of bass and two guitars, the five soloists ply their muscular chops over a range of material from traditional Django tunes to more contemporary modal jazz. Reactions to these sessions have run the gamut from whoops of astonishment to the deafening silence of amazement.

Adrien Moignard, a relatively unknown young French guitarist, clearly demonstrates what the powerful Gypsy technique can bring to a contemporary jazz jam staple, Coltrane's "Impressions." After a 4-bar rhythm intro, Adrien lays down the familiar head over the rhythm section's solid pompe before launching into a take-no-prisoners solo educing the fabled instrument's characteristic crunch and bark. With tantalizing sweeps, blistering chromatic runs and signature Gypsy enclosures, his ideas sound fresh, substantive and inspired. This kid ain't phoning it in.

May 11, 2008 · 4 comments


The Rosenberg Trio: Minor Swing

The Rosenberg Trio was among the hits of the 1992 North Sea Jazz Festival, and fortunately 17 of their selections were recorded, ranging from traditional Gypsy Swing themes to more modern items like Kenny Dorham's "Blue Bossa" and Sonny Rollins's "Pent-Up House." But the real test for this kind of acoustic group is a classic from the repertoire of the Quintette du Hot Club de France. On the up-tempo "Minor Swing," Stochelo Rosenberg and his two cousins bring the house down. Stochelo's lead guitar displays fluidity and finesse that few if any other guitarists in this style can match, what with his wonderfully fast vibrato and long, intricately woven arpeggios, and a seemingly effortless, naturally swinging pulse. Nous'che Rosenberg's rhythm guitar is relentlessly driving, and Nonnie Rosenberg's bass is steadfast in its support.

Less than a year later, The Rosenberg Trio performed as invited guests at Stéphane Grappelli's 85th birthday party at Carnegie Hall in New York. Said Grappelli, who would later record with them for their Caravan CD, "Of all the gypsy guitar players and groups I have played with during my lifetime, the Rosenbergs are the best."

May 08, 2008 · 0 comments


Previous Page | Next Page