Written by Fantasma el Rey
The Hot Club Of San Francisco has chosen sixteen tracks from Django Reinhardt and others who may have inspired him for their latest CD entitled Bohemian Maestro: Django Reinhardt And The Impressionists. Good choices for the band as its roots lie in the Django Gypsy tradition. Led by Paul Mehling, (guitar/banjo) for over twenty years The Hot Club has put out ten previous albums and is making their debut on Azica Records with this tribute to the master.
Jean “Django” Reinhardt (Django means “I awake” in Romani) is known for his gypsy swing style of guitar and banjo work. What makes him unique is the fact that due to extensive injuries by fire Django lost the use of two of his fingers on his left hand (the third and fourth) and is said to have played his solos with only two fingers, using the paralyzed two for chord work. Playing a string instrument is difficult enough as it is, but Django pulled it off with his injuries and gave birth to a very unique sound.
Filled with string bass, violin, banjo, rhythm and lead guitars, the Django sound is rounded out by piano, theremin, and at times various wind instruments (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn), provided by the all-female Aeros Quintet. Django can jump with tunes like “Vendredi 13,” slow down and swing a bit with “Diminushing Blackness,” mellow out on “Nympheas” and get somber with the moody “Bolero.” “Diminushing Blackness” and “Bolero” have very dark tones to them especially “Bolero” with its heavily strummed, plodding guitar, tricky solos, and sad, weeping violin. An instant favorite. The other two Django tracks are the sweet “Messe/Improvisation” and “Improvisation No.3,” which is sad and dark one minute then bouncy the next and back to gloomy.
The Hot Club also covers three tunes by Claude Debussy. A short excerpt of “Pour l’egyptienne” continues the moody darkness of the weeping violin along with jangled guitar work and then reprise of the same title. Third by Debussy is the equally sad yet sweet “Clair De Lune,” one gets the feeling of a lost love in the moonlight as the guitar gently strums and picks over the quiet violin.
Also included is a well-known waltz by Francis Poulenc, “Les Chemins De L’Amour;” a slow tune that fits right in with the other selections, offering more of the same quiet violin and guitar work done in waltz time and movement. On the other hand, there is Jelly Roll Morton’s “The Pearls” that jumps and swings with its lead banjo, peppy rhythm guitar, and solid, playful bass plucks.
Not to be left out of the mix The Hot Club has chimed in with three tracks of their own songs to match and rival the masters they adore so much. “Le Surdoue” is a jumpin’ ditty that kicks off the disc and gets you moving, laying the ground work for what is to come. The song flies at its open with guitar work, slows a bit in the center to let the violin sing, and gives way to the plunks of the bass as it pushes the song forward setting up track two. “Le Jongleur” pops with jumpy, jangled guitar, banjo strums, and singing, sweet violin as the bass thumps on behind them all, giving off a hint of the somber, moody tunes to come. “Waltz For M.C. Escher” is a slow and moody piece that brings all the elements together and adds the creepy, smooth theremin to the mix.
The Hot Club Of San Francisco: Bohemian Maestro: Django Reinhardt And The Impressionists is a fine introduction to both The Hot Club and Django (and friends) for those who don’t know much on the gypsy jazz of the ‘20s and ‘30s. For those familiar with the works of both, this CD will be a welcome addition to the collection as it is a fine album, filled with many wonderful songs that are easy to listen to over and over again as the CD clocks in at just about an hour. The moody tunes set next to the up-tempo jumps are beautifully placed and push the pace of the disc making a very enjoyable listen.