Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

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