HCD? Well, QHCF has long been a handy acronym for one of this excellent band’s major exemplars, the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, in which Django Reinhardt shone on guitar beside the non-Gypsy violin of Stephane Grappelly (before he deFrenchified his name back to his Italian forebears’ Grappelli). The Hot Club of Detroit don’t follow a stereotype, citing a 1940s Benny Goodman ensemble which featured accordion and guitar with clarinet and rhythm, and sidestepping out of strict emulation of the original QHCF into other small-group swing territory. Maybe they have to maintain the original flavour as adhesive to retain a World Music label which encourages listeners who’d not listen to such good stuff if it hadn’t that sort of menu? The music does stay closer to QHCF than Martin Taylor’s British band with Jack Emblow on accordion, and Dave O’Higgins on tenor and soprano saxophones.
It would be no sort of dismissal to report a suggestion that nobody in this band is an instrumentalist in the same class as these three, and of course I can’t report that: Dave Bennett’s clarinet work is right up there, even obscuring a little how amazingly well the other guys play. While the notes say Bennett even looks a bit like Benny Goodman, he certainly brings to mind the still very active Kenny Davern, in earlier days when after a high-register performance Davern would mention the white powder everything in a venue was covered with: “my teeth”, he would add. Davern’s latest work is no less good, he just has other things in mind. Bennett is really exciting, and in taking for his solo feature the one standard tune in the enterprising repertoire, “Honeysuckle Rose”, he’s no coward. This is not just another of the innumerable performances of that number.
Evan Perri, leader and lead guitarist, isn’t so dramatic a player, and I’d suspect he’s still developing as a soloist within the style, capable of still better playing than in this set. On the planning and preparation front he gets full marks, having programmed such a range of Reinhardt compositions, in themselves worth hearing by a modern band. Lazy choices are out, and there’s also “Aurore” by the amazing current Django-inspired guitarist Fapy Lafertin, whose guest appearances (inspired is the right word) have awed bands who essay this style. Perri’s other attempts to inspire everybody include a programming of Wes Montgomery’s “Leila”, in especially Reinhardt/ QHCF style. This might be still more interesting in live performance.
Bowed bass intro a la early Ellington, and after the QHCF mannerisms suddenly Spaghetti Western flamenco chords, faint flute, and Klezmer overtones in the clarinet: the theme turns out to be Nino Rota’s for a film named something like The Codfather. The one time I went to Sicily, we were landing and the idiot beside me on the plane had his cell-phone still on. We were landing and he had that tune for his ringtone! The properties hitherto mentioned, and the “Swing, Swing, Swing” quote and “Hang ‘em High” accordion, are delivered here with a subtlety matched by a certain manner developed toward the ending of this very uncharacteristic performance on Rota’s tune. The musicians seem blasé, as if nothing really had happened. As if? A lot happens on this long track, and description can’t do justice to the levels of shading.
In Julien Labro this otherwise North American ensemble has a French member, an accordionist with a rather bustling manner, who seems to have an agreement with the clarinetist that if the latter blows a little low-register run phrased like accordion, the squeezebox will be applied to some clarinet phrasing.
Of course, the bassist and rhythm guitarists sound unlike the original QHCF performers, lacking various European characteristics of the time: HCD seem uninterested in period provincial plod, or in applying models from QHCF to create what’s not so much easy listening as easy (and shallow) expression. Colton Weatherston and Paul Brady on rhythm guitars do at times interact very neatly with Perri.
There are today, as I said in reviewing the Rough guide to Gypsy Jazz on this site some time back, quite a number of serious performers of this style and repertoire. There are both Gypsy performers, playing what has extended their traditional music without necessary dilution, and jazz musicians who have found the influence invaluable in keeping their own non-Gypsy music elements alive. Some links to that review brought in private feedback representing high passions and standards relative to the music. Someone somewhere may well ask, if you praise some performers highly, “but have you heard . . . ?” A healthy critical climate!
I don’t recall ever having seen the large instrument Shannon Wade plays here referred to as “stand up string bass”. I might allow standout string bass for the bowed solo with its sense of long, long line on the Reinhardt original “Stompin’ at Decca”, here in an arrangement enterprisingly led by the accordion. “Nuages” isn’t the most obscure Reinhardt tune, but why not find a tried vehicle for innovative ensemble arrangement. The bowed bass works well.
In the sequence of titles, “Aurore” is followed by a generalised Jobim-esque intro, affectionate on the edge of playing around, to what turns out finally to be a performance of a Jobim tune, “How Insensitive”. It would be crass of me to omit mention of the gentle and entrancing music the band can also make, especially in the course of the last two numbers of the set. A happy contrast with Wade’s slap bass on “Honeysuckle Rose”, or the three-guitar accompaniment to Bennett the Magnificent’s clarinet on the leader’s composition “Swing One”. Swing one? Swing all! Swing on!