Friday , May 24 2024
Hot Club of Los Angeles

Jazz Reviews: Gypsy Jazz from Hot Club of Los Angeles, and a Nostalgic Tribute to Marlene Dietrich from Myriam Phiro

Hot Club of Los Angeles, Nova

The third release from Hot Club of Los Angeles continues the quintet’s contagious outpouring of eclectic, mostly cheerful music rooted in gypsy jazz. On Nova the band cooks up a powerful set that could fit as comfortably on a world music playlist as in a jazz collection.

Taking basic inspiration from Django Reinhardt and the Quintette du Hot Club de France of the 1930s, the band adds string- and accordion-powered borrowings from various traditions. Among them are French chanson (“Que Reste-t-il de Nos Amours”), jazz standards, traditional Balkan Roma music, and even, in “Raincloud Two-Step,” Dixieland jazz.

The 15 tracks include originals, like the energized leadoff track “Château 22” and the smooth swing of “Inference”; tracks with vocals, including one sung in Romano-Serbian by guitarist/mandolinist/banjo player Jake Bluenote; Reinhardt numbers like “Belleville”; and one classic movie tune, Nino Rota’s polka-like “Carlotta’s Galop” from Fellini’s 8 1/2, to which the Hot Club adds a fun, dark vocal element.

Intellectually speaking, Nova is a smoothly integrated example of cultural cross-pollination. Happily speaking, it’s a bracing good time. It’s out now.

Here’s a video of the band playing “Belleville” live:

Myriam Phiro, Becoming Marlene Dietrich

Myriam Phiro’s new album is solidly rooted in nostalgia. On Becoming Marlene Dietrich the silky-voiced singer pays tribute to the German icon with a mix of familiar and less-well-known songs, sung in English, German, and French.

Referring back to the Hot Club of Los Angeles for a moment: Their press release notes that their recording of “Que Reste-t-il de Nos Amours,” known in English as the standard “I Wish You Love,” is sung by the band’s Carl Byron using “the original seldom-heard French lyrics.” Well, Hot Club, maybe it’s not so seldom after all – Myriam Phiro gives us the same!

The NYC-based singer also offers a relaxed, lounge-y “La Vie en Rose”; “My Blue Heaven” (which I encountered recently in the excellent cabaret show Leni’s Last Lament); “Golden Earrings,” also famously sung by Peggy Lee; the World War One favorite “Lili Marlene,” and many more.

Hyuna Park’s pianism, arranging skills, and musical direction of the fine international band are a big part of what makes the album sound so good.

A military snare drum sneaks into a verse of an otherwise sweetly drowsy “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” Phiro doesn’t infuse the gravitas and desperate drama into the song that Dietrich herself did. But wisely her version keeps the key changes, which modulate up and down to create a dramatic arc. Anyway, this is a tribute, not a copy. The shimmering ending of Phiro’s saucy take on “Jonny, Wenn Du Geburtstag Hast” might send a shiver down your spine, and flows right into a spicy “Golden Earrings,” which features tasty clarinet fills and a solo from Linus Wyrsch.

Because of Phiro’s laid-back delivery, not all the songs live up to their potential. She doesn’t really plumb the jazzy soul of “Another Spring, Another Love,” and her “Makin’ Whoopee” sounds a little tame. On the other hand, her light touch and creamy vibrato create softly appealing versions of “My Blue Heaven” and many others.

Overall, these are great, crafty songs that it’s a pleasure to re-experience through a new voice. As the album notes say, “Marlene’s legacy lives on in every sultry note, every smoky glance, and every seductive whisper.”

Myriam Phiro’s Becoming Marlene Dietrich is available now.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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