Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Stephane Wrembel Releases a Lavish, Charecteristically Edgy New Romany Jazz Album at Drom Tonight

Guitarist Stephane Wrembel made a name for himself as a stormy, erudite interpreter of Django Reinhardt, but his own body of work encompasses far more than that, using Romany jazz as a stepping-off point for his own distinctive ventures into Middle Eastern sounds and psychedelic rock. His lavish, dynamically rich, often poignant new double cd The Django Experiment is streaming at youtube. Disc one is mostly an imaginative mix of Django classics; disc two is mostly originals, in more of a jazz vein than what audiences get at his ongoing, legendary most-every-Sunday night 9 PM-ish residency at Barbes. He’s playing the album release show tonight, June 10 at 8 PM at Drom; hopefully by now you have your $15 advance tickets because it’s an extra five at the door.

The first disc opens with Nuages, Wrembel’s elegantly spare, resonant lines over Thor Jensen’s spring-loaded rhythm guitar, Ari Folman-Cohen’s bass and Nick Anderson’s drums. Wrembel takes somewhat the opposite approach with his tremolo-picking on the waltz Gin-Gin, then he and Folman-Cohen have fun working the chromatic edges of Bouncin’ Around, a close cousin to Brother Can You Spare a Dime.

Nick Driscoll’s clarinet spirals around and intertwines artfully with Wrembel on the jaunty Dinette. By contrast, Wrembel and Jensen max out the modal melancholy in a majestically spacious take of Troublant Bolero, up to a characteristically careening crescendo. It makes a good segue with the first of Wrembel’s originals, Windmills, a brisk, deliciously broodng waltz.

The band goes back to the Django catalog for a bubbly, lickety-split take of Place de Broukere, followed by the bucolic desolation of Carnets de Route,Wrembel’s moodily magical mashup of Django and Pink Floyd. The up-down dynamics continue with the coyly strutting Djangology and then Wrembel’s plaintively mined take of Sasha Distel’s Ma Premiere Guitare. Disc one winds up with Wrembel’s wistful waltz Jacques Prevert followed by a roller-coaster ride through Django’s Minor Swing. the bandleader channeling Wes Montgomery up to a mightily plucked bass solo and finally a stampede out.

The second disc begins with the epically vamping Douce Ambience. It perfectly capsulizes the confluence of Middle Eastern modalities and Romany swing that Wrembel first began mining around ten years ago, the guitarist’s understated unease in contrast with Driscoll’s relentless centrifugal force on soprano sax, Anderson taking it out with a long hailstorm of a solo. Viper’s Dream is pretty close to the Django version, with a little wryly bouncing Tal Farlow thrown in.

A waltz by Bamboula Ferrret benefits from Wrembel’s judicious, occasionally tremolo-picked phrases mixed into an attack that’s equally precise and resonant: all those notes don’t just vanish into thin air. Boston, another waltz, begins wistfully, grows more elegaic and then Wrembel builds a long, growling upward drive. Then the band flips the script with the toe-tapping shuffle Double Scotch, Driscoll adding dixieland effervescence.

Reinhardt’s midtempo stroll Tears reveals itself here as the source of a Beatles hit that Big Lazy likes to take even deeper into the shadows. Nanoc, which is Wrembel’s Caravan, opens with a levantine slink and slithers further off the rails from there. Then he makes a surreal juxtaposition with Django’s Louis Jordan-influenced Heavy Artillery, which is anything but. After that, Minor Blues is middle ground, more or less, Wrembel adding an understated intensity, part Wes Montgomery, part psychedelic rock, with a long, practically frantic sprint out.

Interestingly, the album’s best track isn’t one of the barn-burners but Wrembel’s slow, hushed, allusively flamenco-ish Film Noir. Raising the ante again, Driscoll’s clarinet infuses Songe d’Automne with an indian summer breeze. The final cut is the enigmatically balmy ballad Anouman, ironically the closest thing to straight-up postbop here. Over and over, Wrembel reaffirms his status as paradigm-shifter and one of the world’s most engaging, original innovators in Romany guitar jazz.

June 10, 2017 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Hot Club of Detroit Gets to the Junction At Full Speed

Prime movers in the gypsy jazz resurgence, the Hot Club of Detroit’s new album, Junction, features a somewhat revamped lineup since bassist Andrew Kratzat suffered a near-fatal car accident last year. But there’s good news on all fronts: Kratzat and his fiancee continue on their road to recovery, and the band found a capable replacement in Shawn Conley. Otherwise, the original core of accordionist Julien Labro and guitarists Evan Perri and Paul Brady is back, joined this time out by reedmen Jon Irabagon and Andrew Bishop plus chanteuse Cyrille Aimee, with whom they’ve toured extensively. Irabagon’s wit and supersonic chops, Bishop’s eclecticism and ironclad sense of melody and Aimee’s purist charm each contribute to the diversity of the songs here. In the spirit of the band’s previous efforts, this album imaginatively blends jaunty grooves with ideas from all over the musical spectrum, continuing to push beyond traditional gypsy jazz.

That’s apparent right off the bat with a funky Irabagon composition, Goodbye Mr. Anderson (a Matrix reference, in case you might be wondering). It’s basically a two-chord jam with a catchy turnaround: spiraling solos from Labro’s accordion and Perri’s electric guitar set up an even more blistering, adrenalizing one from the composer himself.

They follow that with Song for Gabriel, the first of several Perri/Labro co-writes, bouncy and lyrical with some rich alto sax/accordion harmonies. Aimee sings La Foule over tricky, syncopated gypsy jazz: it’s a mouthful, and rather than trying to outdo Piaf, Aimee takes it in a much more understated direction, Perri adding an aptly wistful, expansive acoustic guitar solo.

An upbeat tune simply titled Hey! makes a launching pad for a wildfire cutting contest between Irabagon and Bishop: after a roller-coaster ride of doublestops, trills, unexpected hesitations and gritty microtones, they take it down to a cool accordion/bass/guitar pulse. Chutzpah, a John Zorn homage, kicks off with a tongue-in-cheek improvisational intro and then adds a subtle klezmer tinge, Irabagon springboarding off it with microtonal alto sax pyrotechnics. Then they resurrect a rare Django mass (which Reinhardt left unfinished), Messe Gitane, accordion taking the rather morose role of the church organ, Perri’s guitar eventually taking it into warmer terrain and then handing off to Bishop’s crystalline clarinet.

Django Mort, a setting of a Jean Cocteau poem is delivered very low-key by Aimee over a slow, stately sway. The cinematic, pensively swaying title track, with its folk-rock tinges and plaintive accordion, reminds of Montreal eclecticists Sagapool. The most memorable of all the tracks here, Midnight in Detroit is over too soon in just over a couple of minutes, Labro’s Balkan swirls lighting up the guitars’ nocturnal backdrop.

There’s also a George Shearing homage done as an offcenter, pensive ballad; the deliciously original Puck Bunny, a wry mix of country blues,gypsy swing and jump blues that evokes the Microscopic Septet’s take on Thelonious Monk; a vocal take on Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman that far surpasses a similar version by [who???] which was a rock radio hit in the 70s; and a Phish cover which transcends the original simply by not being an embarrassment. It’s out now on Mack Avenue.

August 19, 2012 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Two Individual Takes on Gypsy Jazz

Why does pretty much everybody agree on gypsy jazz? Because you can hum it? Because it’s so infectiously energetic? Because in order to play it, you have to be really good, and for that reason gypsy jazz bands are generally excellent? All of the above? You decide.

And it’s not an ossified genre either – there are plenty of acts who are taking it to new and exciting places. Les Doigts De L’homme are one of them. What differentiates this four-piece French band from all the other Django Reinhardt descendents out there? Les Doigts De L’homme have three guitarists, and a bass player, which gives them extra sonic depth and an opportunity for richly interwoven melody. It’s not necessarily that their sound is more lush: their latest album, titled 1910 (referring to Django’s birth year) is brisk, jumpy, danceable stuff. But the contrast between bandleader/guitarist Olivier Kikteff’s hard-hitting, incisive attack versus co-lead guitarist Benoit Convert’s lightning-fast but more effortlessly fluid style is often viscerally breathtaking. Behind them, rhythm guitarist Yannick Alcocer and bassist Tanguy Blum lock these shuffles down tight.

And the tunes aren’t just your standard shuffles, either. There’s a couple of waltzes: a Kikteff original that imaginatively mixes blues and Djangoisms, and a bitter, biting take of the great accordionist Tony Murena’s Indifference, the longest and most intense number here. The rustic title track, another Kikteff original, has the guitarist working his way in slowly and methodically before the whole band scurries off with it. Their version of St. James Infirmary Blues shifts vividly from anguish to despair, Kikteff’s almost manic depressive lead followed by a plaintive solo by Convert. The long, expansive, amusingly titled Improsture #1 for solo guitar offsets the gently meandering ambience with Kikteff amped just short of distortion. And Reinhardt’s Bolero gets a stately, spacious intro, distantly glimmering guitars and a tersely brooding Stephane Chause clarinet solo.

There’s plenty of fun, upbeat Django material too, everything you’d want from a homage to the iconic guitarist: Appel Indirect, the musicians cleverly dropping out and then back in; Blue Lou, which gets a bright, dixieland-flavored treatment and a 100-mph cruise control solo from Convert; a gracefully snarling version of Minor Swing, as well as energetic, supertight covers of Feerie, Swing 48, Blue Skies, Old Man River, I’ve Found a New Baby and Russian Melody. As you would expect from this album, Les Doigts De L’homme are a great live band: of all the acts we saw at Montreal Jazz Festival and elsewhere during our Canada trip earlier this summer, these guys were the most exciting.

If you’re into gypsy jazz, another group that might interest you is Occidental Gypsy. You might know them from their jokey cover of Thriller. What jumps out immediately is how inspired their acoustic arrangement is – and what a bad joke the lyrics are. Rather than imitating Jacko’s stagy whisper, frontman Scott Kulman goes for a breathy faux-Chet Baker approach. Otherwise, vocal tunes are not this band’s strong suit, but you can pull an excellent playlist from the instrumentals on their new album Over Here. Veneto blends salsa piano with gypsy guitar jazz, while lead guitarist Brett Feldman’s Con Pasion spirals poignantly. Occidental Stomp swings a lot more than the title implies, with a bittersweet Django edge and some deliciously precise Echae Kang violin. There’s also interestingly gypsified bossa nova, a bracingly wistful waltz, and the aptly titled Panamanian Express.

August 7, 2011 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Montreal Jazz Festival 2011: Day Two

The Montreal Jazz Festival continues through July 4; before we headed out to Halifax, day two proved to be the high point. Once again, there was an early show at the beer tent on St.-Catherine just off Bleury. This time it was Le Dixieband, pretty much the same group as the previous day. As with that incarnation (with a different clarinetist and drummer), they push the envelope with dixieland, incorporating elements of early swing and ragtime and this time, funk. Bandleader/trombonist Richard Turcotte bantered with the crowd between songs, while clarinetist Bruno Lamarche fired off one supersonic, klezmer-tinged arpeggio after another, trumpeter Aron Doyle supplying firepower over the fluid groove of Luc Bouchard on banjo, Jeff Simons on drums and Jean Sabourin on sousaphone. The previous afternoon’s show was darker; this was the fun set, amping up Cole Porter and Louis Armstrong, closing by giving When the Saints Go Marching In a hip-tugging, funky bounce. Playing an early show is invariably a tough gig, but these guys made it look easy: it was a welcome jolt of energy to kick off the day.

French quartet Les Doigts de L’homme’s name is a pun. Meaning “the fingers of man,” it’s a play on “les droits de l’homme,” meaning “human rights,” the foundation of French democracy. Sunday night they celebrated their right to party: the crowd, extending at least two city blocks from the stage, literally exploded after they’d wound up their last song: the reaction was visceral. And they knew a lot of the songs, and clapped along. Maybe it’s the connection between France and Montreal, or maybe it’s just that Les Doigs de L’homme had just played their doigts off. Drawling on their new album 1910, which celebrates the Django Reinhardt centenary, they put an exhilarating new spin on an old sound. They’re much more than a Django cover band: Les Doigs de L’homme are taking gypsy jazz to new places. Lead guitarists Olivier Kikteff and Benoit Convert stretched out the songs for minutes on end with a barrage of long, crescendoing solos that never let up. Kikteff is the harder hitter of the two, and a bit of a ham; Convert’s equally blinding speed is disguised by the seemingly effortless fluidity of his attack. Behind them, rhythm guitarist Yannick Alcocer and bassist Tanguy Blum locked into a mesh of spiky textures punctuated by the occasional terse, biting bass solo.

One of their early numbers saw the band creating the echo effect popularized by U2 guitarist the Edge, but in real time. Another worked a hypnotic, circular riff for a watery, Pat Metheny-ish vibe before going off into gypsyland. Kikteff reminded the crowd that St. James Infirmary Blues is about a guy watching his wife die in the hospital, and gave it an austerely plaintive edge with an expansive solo against a flurry of tremolo-picking from the rest of the band. They swung through a diversion into the Django songbook with a surprisingly effective, funky rhythm, made a brief attempt to get the crowd to go with some polyrhythms (“The Swiss are great at this,” Kikteff deadpanned) and wound up their hour onstage with a blistering, Balkan-inflected number where Kikteff first quoted from Hot Butter’s old 1970s instrumental-cheese hit Popcorn (what is it about the French and Popcorn, anyway?), finally firing off a lickety-split, somewhat tongue-in-cheek solo using high harmonics way up his high E string. It was the highlight of the festival for us, especially since we missed their New York show at le Poisson Rouge earlier in the week.

June 30, 2011 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/3/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #698:

Django Reinhardt – Swing de Paris

We’re going to make another exception to our “no box sets” rule for another guy who was making records back in the day when albums were bound up like books. This massive 4-cd set spans from the 30s through the early 50s, about a third of the tracks with his longtime collaborator, jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli, some with brass, some without. What can we say about Django that hasn’t already been said? Guitar genius whose style was shaped – literally – when the surgeons put his fret hand back together again after a car accident; inventor of gypsy jazz; someone whose impact arguably ranks with Hendrix, at least as far as the guitar is concerned, maybe more (would Gogol Bordello exist if not for Django? Maybe not). This isn’t as exhaustive as you’d think (no Swing 36, for example), although it does have Swing 39 and Swing 48, along with Tiger Rag, Blue Drag, Djangology, Improvisation No.2, Nuages, Nagasaki and Nuit de St.-Germain. When Django wasn’t composing – which was seemingly all the time – he was covering the hits of the day: After You’ve Gone, Limehouse Blues, Japanese Sandman and Viper’s Dream are some of the high points among these biting, bristling gems. Here’s a random torrent courtesy of beyondmidnight.

March 3, 2011 Posted by | gypsy music, jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Ameranouche at 68 Jay St. Bar in Brooklyn

Much as a lot of New York clubs exploit musicians, there are other venues that actually support and nurture scenes: Barbes, with its global talent base; the Jalopy’s oldtime Americana roots crew; punk rock at ABC No Rio; jazz at Smalls. Count 68 Jay St. Bar in Dumbo on this short but crucial list. If Jan Bell (a poignant and potent Americana singer and tunesmith herself) has booked a band for one of the bar’s Wednesday and Saturday night shows, that’s a guarantee that the music will be good. Saturday night the attraction was New Hampshire gypsy jazz act Ameranouche. Make as many jokes about bands from the boondocks as you want, but Boston and Portland, Maine have been hit just as hard or even harder by the blight of gentrification as New York has, so maybe the Granite State talent that in years past would flee to those towns at the first opportunity is staying put now and making do with what they have.

When the trio first hit the stage, the bar was pretty empty: by the time they’d finished their first set, it was hopping, in both senses of the word. Bassist Xar Adelberg locked into a terse, fluid swing pulse that anchored the hypnotic staccato rhythm of guitarist Ryan Flaherty while lead guitarist Richard Sheppard spun off one spiraling shower of sparks after another. What differentiates this band from the scores of other Django Reinhardt devotees out there is their originality. They played Swing 69 early on and that did one pretty much straight up: for a lot of reasons, it doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room unless you make it punk, or reggae, or something vastly different than the original. After another Django number, the band went into their own catalog for a scurrying train-whistle tune: listening to what was essentially a two-chord jam, it was like being on a comfortable night express surrounded by friendly people drinking beer. The next song had an eerie tinge, with tritones; after that, they took the groove in a funk direction, Flaherty muting his strings just enough to produce a tinny tambourine-like timbre, an unexpectedly cool contrast with Sheppard’s lightning, incisive sixteenth-note runs. A slinkier shuffle, a bluesier number and then their fastest song of the night followed. As you would expect, Ameranouche tour frequently; if gypsy jazz is your thing – if you’re a fan of Stephane Wrembel, especially – they’re a band you need to know.

November 9, 2010 Posted by | concert, gypsy music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Hot Club of Detroit – It’s About That Time

Why do people love gypsy jazz? Because it’s fun. Musicians get into this stuff A) because they can (it’s not easy to play) and B) because somewhere there’s always a gig waiting to happen. Club owners who know that gypsy jazz exists know that it keeps the crowd in the house. But what differentiates the Hot Club of Detroit from the legions of other talented players who’ve memorized every Django Reinhardt lick? This band pushes the envelope. What’s coolest about Hot Club of Detroit, and especially this new album is that what they do is just as jazz as it is gypsy. And they vary the mood a lot more than most of their compatriots – this isn’t all lickety-split toe-tappin’ music. You can hear it in the joyous reed riffage that kicks off the opening track, On the Steps; in the deviousness of the tempo shift halfway through their vigorous version of Mingus’ Nostalgia in Times Square (that they’d choose a Mingus song to cover pretty much says it all); and throughout reed player Carl Cafagna’s shuffle Restless Twilight. That one could be a Jimmy Smith song, substituting Paul Brady’s staccato acoustic rhythm guitar and Andrew Kratzat’s bass for the organ.

For Stephane, by lead guitarist Evan Perri, imagines a Grappelli line shifting between the instruments (and then Cafagna throws an absurdly hilarious quote in toward the end). The summery, expansive Papillon, by accordionist Julien Labro gives Kratzat one of several opportunities to darken the mood with a stark, bowed solo. And they put their own stamp on the classics here: Django’s Duke and Dukie (those were his cats) swings with a visceral recklessness; an aptly brooding cover of the famous Chopin E Major Etude vividly contrasts spiky acoustic guitar with pensive clarinet. There’s plenty to enjoy for purist fans of Reinhardt and Grappelli, but the real joy in this album is when the band takes it to unexpected places. It’s just out on Mack Avenue.

May 4, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Steeve Laffont – Swing for Jess

Sizzling gypsy jazz with lots of innovative flourishes from the French guitarist and his inspired band. Steeve Laffont is in fact of Roma ancestry; his first instrument was keys. Self-taught as a guitarist, he has a refreshingly original style. It’s not known what if any his affinity for Americana is, but there’s a soaring, blue-sky western swing feel to much of this, a welcome change from the legions of well-meaning but slavish Django imitators. There are places on the album that frequently evoke the paradigm-shifting work of Stephane Wrembel, but Laffont is a lot sunnier. On this new album, his second as a solo artist, he’s backed by a brisk, non-nonsense band of Rudy Rabuffetti on rhythm guitar, Serge Oustiakine on bass and violinist Costel Nitescu guesting on all but three tracks.

The title cut is a characteristically bristling swing number. Mano, one of the three Django covers here gets a spiky whistle-stop treatment. A lickety-split version of Old Man River is rendered almost unrecognizable with Laffont’s playful hammer-ons and dizzying, circular chromatics. Meggie Style, a Rabuffetti composition, is a 12/4 ballad that gives the violin and bass to get expansive and build atmosphere.

One of the most imaginative tracks here is Astor Piazzolla’s signature song, Libertango – Laffont traces its roots straight back to Spain, giving it a staggered flamenco treatment. Their fast shuffle version of Oh Samba Leo manages to echo both Steve Cropper and George Benson; they slow things down with the Laffont original Djazz, a vividly nostalgic ballad with a Georgia on My Mind feel guitar against a lush string section, then an aptly wistful violin solo. The album wraps up with the band blasting through Ain’t Misbehavin’ and then the old George Shearing ballad I Remember April, each one a springboard for Laffont’s sizzling triplet runs offset by a wry bluesiness. Keep your eye on this guy – he’s only going to get better.

March 4, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Edgar Gabriel’s String Fusion – Not Radio Material

This cd is a rare blend of accessibility and excitement. The title is sarcastic: much of this album is perfect radio material for adventurous noncommercial djs, while some of the compositions are easygoing enough to sneak into a smooth-grooves playlist. Don’t let the F-word scare you off – true to their name, Chicago area Edgar Gabriel’s String Fusion play fusion jazz, meaning solos around the horn, interplay between the instruments absent as usual, rhythm straight up, four on the floor. But jazz fans are supposed to be open-minded – and for any fan of string music, with fond memories of the 70s or an ear for Jean-Luc Ponty or Weather Report, this is a treat. Bandleader Edgar Gabriel, playing electric violin, viola and even electric mandolin, demonstrates virtuoso chops, impressive taste and a whirlwind of styles, backed by a rhythm section of electric and acoustic piano, electric or standup bass and live drums (with this stuff, you never know sometimes). The first cut on the cd is straight-up funk, Gabriel impressively working a horn melody; the second cut is thoughtful and midtempo with a bit of a rhumba feel, featuring a warmly exploratory tenor sax solo by Michael Levin. The fourth track, Mobile is a fiery, percussive, flamenco-fueled number with a bracingly atonal Macedonian edge.

I Knew That, by keyboardist Kevin O’Connell switches the time stamp on mid-40s style swing, Gabriel’s flourishes alternately ambient and bluesy. By contrast, O’Connell’s Blue 7 evokes the cool jazz feel of what Ponty or Stephane Grappelli were doing in the 60s, Stevie Doyle adding an incisive guitar solo from a period ten years down the road over steady, minimalist blues variations. Nose Bleed is the requisite fusion-metal number, Gabriel running his axe through a screechy wall of distortion. The cd’s best cut is Renaissance man, a bouncy dance that blends a Django/Grappelli vibe with klezmer overtones, alternating between lively Gabriel atmospherics and some absolutely spot-on, lickety-split clarinet work by Levin. The only miss here is the third track, a Lite FM vocal number – sung by somebody’s girlfriend maybe? – which has no place on an album this good. Otherwise, there’s plenty for everyone here, proof that there’s plenty of music that can simultaneously be mainstream AND good.

May 20, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Musette Explosion Live at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 3/13/08

Just for the record, this is not the same band formerly known as the Jon Spencer Musette Explosion. Instead, it’s accordionist Will Holshouser and guitarist Matt Munisteri (half of Munisteri’s superb vocal jazz outfit Brock Mumford), along with some kind of rhythm, usually tuba player Marcus Rojas, but tonight they had a killer upright bassist instead, playing all kinds of gorgeous broken chords, slides and even mimicking a Munisteri solo at one point.

Musette Explosion and the Barbes house band, Chicha Libre, each play a style of indigenous accordion music which was revolutionized when blended with the American pop music of its era. In the case of Chicha Libre, the essential liquor was Peruvian cumbia (pronounced KOOM-bee-a, not kumbaya) dance music, mixed with 60s American surf and psychedelia and played on electronic instruments. Musette Explosion play blue-collar French and Belgian barroom music from the 30s and 40s; its catalyzing element was swing jazz. It’s richly melodic, intensely emotional music, requiring not only great chops but also an intense emotional sensibility to play it as it was meant to be done. The trio onstage tonight alternated between two types of musette: bouncy, upbeat dance numbers and wrenchingly beautiful laments in waltz time. Not to flog a dead horse, but it never ceases to amaze how good the shows are in the tiny back room at this club – and though there’s always a good turnout, it’s not hard to fill the space. There should have been a line around the block for this one, it was that spectacular, especially considering how popular gypsy music has become.

Holshouser got the enviable job of playing the lead instrument on a mix of vintage tunes by accordionists Gus Viseur, Jo Privat and Tony Murena, in addition to at least one original, with the tongue-in-cheek title Chanson Pop. “We have no idea why it has that title,” he deadpanned, echoing a joke which had been bouncing around between the band all night long – this band makes no secret of how much fun they have playing this stuff. It began like a gentle janglerock song from the early 90s – echoes of Lloyd Cole, perhaps? – with a warm series of major-key hooks, before branching out into an unexpected series of permutations, and then time shifts, toward the end.

Munisteri is the rare guitarist with an instantly recognizable, signature sound. He’s something of a contradiction, a traditionalist whose playing is far more imaginative than any tradition could possibly contain. Blending styles ranging from pretty trad Wes Montgomery octaves, Django Reinhardt percussiveness, soulful, swaying country lines and macabre gypsy runs, he parked his usual understated wit off to the side and went straight for the jugular. The best solo of the night was played on neither accordion, bass, nor guitar: it was Munisteri wailing on his banjo on the Jo Privat composition La Sorciere (The Witch). This particular witch is a seductress, a fair beckoning one who spins around the room, mesmerizing every unlucky suitor with her deadly gaze. Munisteri brought out every ounce of macabre in the song, his fret hand a blur, tremolo-picking wildly as if playing a balalaika, then slamming out the rapid series of chords that wind up the turnaround at the end of the verse.

In another gorgeously lyrical number toward the end of the set, he surprised everyone with a fetching, bent-note, somewhat Chet Atkins country melody. Holshouser whirled and fired off notes at lightning speed, frequently using a rapidfire, machine-gun staccato on a single key. While playing, he’ll often fix an ominous, almost John Lydon-style thousand-yard stare on the back wall of the room, but tonight there was no glare, only the trace of a smile. He let the music tell the rest of the story, and the band did the same.

Holshouser is off to Europe for the next couple of weeks; meanwhile, when not playing big, fancy jazz joints, Munisteri rejoins his Brock Mumford cohort, trumpeter Jon Kellso for their weekly 7:30 PM Sunday session at the Ear Inn. He’s also doing the next couple of Mondays solo at Banjo Jim’s at around 7 PM.

March 14, 2008 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment