According to this CD’s press pack, music of the gypsy swing sort is a Seattle speciality, and of the various very good bands in that city’s area, Hot Club Sandwich are about the best. This seems highly plausible, given that they compare well with the best, anywhere.
Ray Wood does a little koto impression at the beginning of the bilingually titled (Japanese/Spanish) third track. When he switches to playing standard gypsy lead, it’s clear that he, Kevin Connor, and Greg Ruby are all individual guitar soloists. Nobody sticks to second guitar, and nobody plays any instrument here in stylistically second-hand manner. Unlike the other two guitarists, who alternate between solo and rhythm roles (luxury!), the veteran Wood doesn’t contribute a composition. Tim Sircely does. He’s the mandolinist, and his “Renegade Cafe” is sufficiently reminiscent of Les Paul to show how much that even older maestro owed to Django Reinhardt.
Chris Blacker turns up on accordion on three titles, one of them the only Reinhardt number on the set, “Heavy Artillery”. There’s some low string guitar work very distinct from what Reinhardt himself played, while still in style, though the accordionist does tip his hat to zydeco. There’s a lot more to this music than imitating old models, since the style began with a Roma gypsy 75 years ago trying to imitate the jazz his audience was hearing, and that he’d heard on records by Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang. He discovered he could do very original things and extend the idiom.
The Mandolin shows off well on “Old Joe’s Hittin the Jug”, a song associated with the great jazz violinist Stuff Smith. Deep fun. As on “Artillery”, James Schneider moves his double bass into the front line. The sixth string soloist is Tim Wetmiller, and individual violinist, with the occasional suggestion of Klezmer.
Connor sings on the Fletcher Henderson “8, 9 & 10”, with Miho Takekawa guesting on vibes, followed by contrasting guitar work from Wood and Connor, and eventually Joe Venuti-style chorded violin from Wetmiller.
I’ve heard a few wonderful recordings of “Twilight in Turkey” and there’s yet another wonderful one here. Schneider is a terrific bassist. There’s a Latin touch with “Dedos Douros”, composed by the Argentinian guitarist Oscar Aleman (a Reinhardt contemporary and sometime Paris associate), with fresh contributions from both fiddle and accordion. The repertoire on this CD is varied, unusual, and intriguing, just to be even better than anybody else.
Tim Wetmiller’s “Green Room” rounds things off with wit, empathy, and another splash of Venuti in the ending. Four numbers on this CD have added percussion. For anybody who likes gypsy swing, this should be a fantastic surprise. The band’s website quotes some earlier reviewers’ assertions that this band plays a whole range of different musics. Presumably, these writers expected something more monotonous. At a first listen I didn’t believe what I was hearing. A better word is miraculous.
// Notes from the Road
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