Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Quatre Vingt Neuf Reinvent Little Rascals Soundtracks, Hot 20s Jazz and Dixieland at Barbes

When Quatre Vingt Neuf launched into their most recent show last month at Barbes, it was a jazz power play. Bryan Beninghove came up with that term: it means more people onstage than there are in the audience. But by the time the irrepressible quasi oldtimey swing band wrapped up their show around midnight, the room was packed. Quatre Vingt Neuf are last-minute like that.

They played their first gig last year when the venue had a cancellation. Owner Olivier Conan emailed Wade Ripka, who would end up playing tenor banjo in the group, to see if he could pull a pickup band together. Sure, said Ripka, who’s in a bunch of other bands (rembetiko metalheads Greek Judas and retro Russian psych-pop crew the Eastern Blokhedz to name a couple) and has a deep address book. Since Conan lives in France now, all this was done over email.

And unlike most venues, Barbes actually promotes the artists who play there. So when Conan hadn’t heard back from Ripka by around midnight, European time, he sent a final reminder to make sure that the bar would have some kind of live entertainment that night.

Apparently the show was a success. When Ripka asked for another gig for this ensemble, Conan agreed – but insisted on naming the band. He came up with Quatre Vingt Neuf (French for Eighty-nine – a revolutionary year). Since then, they’ve featured as many as seventeen players onstage. Last month’s show featured a relatively small septet.

Quatre Vingt Neuf’s shtick is that they play hot 20s jazz and dixieland with a rock rhythm section, a rarity since when those styles first originated, recording technology hadn’t been developed to the point where bass or drums could be recorded in a full-band situation. Realistically speaking, Quatre Vingt Neuf hardly qualify as a rock band. At the May gig, drummer Chris Stromquist (who also plays in Greek Judas and Balkan brass band Slavic Soul Party) broke out his bundles and brushes and swung with an unexpectedly subtle flair – it’s a side of him not that many people get to see. The same with bassist Nick Cudahy – who also plays in Greek Judas and the Blokhedz – walking the changes and using horn voicings in a couple of wry solos.

Interestingly, bandleader Ripka stuck to rhythm and didn’t take any solos. But the band played several of his arrangements of Little Rascals theme music, from scampering Keystone Kops miniatures to longer, more coyly crescendoing, cinematic pieces. Even the ballads were upbeat. Soprano saxophonist Jason Candler sang a handful of them, when he wasn’t sending wildfire spirals upward. Trumpeter John Carlson played terse, centered good cop to trombonist Tim Vaughn’s boisterous honks and snorts and extended technique. They’re back at Barbes on June 13 at 10 PM, headlining a great swing twinbill that begins at 8 with plush singer/baritone uke player Daria Grace & the Pre-War Ponies, who excel at oldschool mambos and can also be a lot more boisterous than most retro swing bands.

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June 3, 2019 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Swingaroos Offer a Good Reason Not to Stay Home on the 17th

The good news about St. Patrick’s Day this year is that it’s on a Tuesday. Does that mean the amateurs won’t be celebrating it early this weekend, turning every bar from Hell’s Kitchen to Hell’s Gate into Hell itself? Probably not. But there will probably be fewer of them out this coming Tuesday the 17th, if you’re stir-crazy enough to go out that night. And if you end up at the big room at the Rockwood at around 10, you’ll get to see a really fun, original retro swing band, the Swingaroos. Does that mean the Rockwood folks expect lots of drunken dancing? Your guess is as good as anybody’s. More likely, it means the band is taking a gamble that they’ll be playing their irrepressibly cheery update on 30s and 40s sounds to a captive audience.

Their album All Aboard is streaming at Bandcamp. Pianist Assaf Gleizner’s stride stomp fuels the opening track, Steam Train, singer Kimberly Hawkey ably voicing a train whistle and then serving as emcee for jaunty solos by Dan Glaude on clarinet, Nat Ranson on trombone and then a scampering one from the piano.

Hawkey shows off her brassy and smoky sides on the high-spirited stroll A Walk in the Park, bassist Chris Conte adding a lively, tiptoeing solo. To the Beat! looks back to Gene Krupa and Benny Goodman. Then the band brings it down with Far Across the World, Hawkey’s expressive (and subtly droll) vocals anchored by Gleizner’s resonant chords and a balmy Glaude alto sax solo over drummer Mike Gordon’s misty brushwork

Grocery List is a funny Louis Jordan-style jump blues: “A ham, a clam, a leg of lamb, it’s just baloney,” Hawkey intones, having all kinds of fun with food innuendos – and a pretty fair impersonation of a kazoo solo. The band has just as much fun making a slowly strolling noir theme out of Brahms’ famous Hungarian Dance, with a tip of the hat to Duke Ellington. Nagasaki is the lone Roaring 20s cover here, done with a rapidfire, coy hokum blues flair.

The band follows that with the album’s best track, Shadow Man, with its Brecht-Weill style angst and Hawkey’s moody, world-weary, distantly Billie Holiday-inflected vocals. Gordon’s tapdancing drums take centerstage on the brisk I Can Take It. The album ends with a silly cover that’s infinitely better than the original, which will probably draw some chuckles from people in the crowd who were in grade school back in the 90s.

March 11, 2015 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment