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

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