Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

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

Christian Howes Puts a Bluesy Spin on Violin Jazz

Calling your new album Out of the Blue, especially if you’re a string player, is pretty much akin to calling it A Love Supreme if you play sax. But no matter: jazz violinist Christian Howes plays it with an admirably purist sensibility, other than the occasions when he really digs in and delivers what sounds like a distorted guitar solo. And he does it with his own signature, melodic style. Jazz violinists inevitably get compared to either Stephane Grappelli or Jean-Luc Ponty, and to his credit Howes seldom sounds much like either one. You have to go back in time for guys like Stuff Smith, a bluesman, a style Howes reaches for more frequently than not here. The band behind him includes Robben Ford on guitars, Bobby Floyd (who wrote Knock on Wood) on organ and piano, Tamir Hendelman taking over on piano on several tracks, bass duties split between Kevin Axt on upright bass and Ric Fierabracci on bass guitar, with Joel Rosenblatt on drums.

The opening track, Fingerprints, is Wayne Shorter’s Footprints (via Chick Corea), moving from propulsive funk to astringently sweeping swing and a rippling Hendelman piano solo, Ford maintaining the vibe marvelously. A swinging version of Fats Domino’s I’m Walking is the one place where Grappelli comes to mind, Floyd going deep into the blues, Ford shifting from incisive to spiraling, with a soaring solo out. And was that a Hank Williams quote? Horace Silver’s Cape Verdean Blues emphasizes sway, syncopation, and straight-up bluesiness, Howes building to a graceful spiral down and deep into the shadows after Hendelman’s graceful cascades. Nicking a phrase from the Sister Sledge kitschfest Tell Me Something Good, Gumbo Klomp works a funk vamp, the Crusaders as done with violin, Ford reminding of his early glory days with Jimmy Witherspoon. The title track, a Jeff Lynne classic (just kidding – it’s an original) is warmly gospel-flavored, a feast of shifting textures, Rosenblatt playfully impatient and bustling underneath.

Sharon Hendrix guests on vocals on the torchy soul/blues Seek and Ye Shall Find. A shuffling, fusiony funk groove, Bobby’s Bad is a vehicle for some colorful Floyd work and a metallic solo out by Howes. Hendelman and then Ford turn a purist version of Sing Me Softly of the Blues over to Howes, who scurries and then shoots it across the bar to Floyd, who’s only too glad to join the fun. They wind up the album with the rhythmically tricky When Will the Blues Leave and a minimalistic, distantly ragtime piano-and-violin duo version of Sweet Lorraine. Blues fans may enjoy this as much as the jazz crowd. It’s out now on Resonance.

September 16, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, 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