There is a scene in Woody Allen’s love letter to jazz, Sweet and Lowdown, where Sean Penn, playing make-believe jazz guitar prodigy Emmet Ray, goes through an entire range of human emotion in a matter of five seconds, and he does so without saying a word. At that moment I joined the chorus of fans and critics who consider Sean Penn one of the greatest actors of his time.
What does this scene have to do with the latest Hot Club de Norvege release, you might ask? There are a few links I could point to, but the truth is that it doesn’t have much to do with it, other than to make me think that there were no such revelations while listening to Parisian Honeymoon Suite. The latest compilation from Europe’s leading gypsy jazz promoter is a fine album, with exceptional performances turned in by a slate of musicians with a pedigree and family history that is enviable: two relatives of legendary jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, including his son, former child prodigy Jimmy Rosenberg as well as Watti Rosenberg, and many other leading puveyors of European gypsy jazz.
It’s a stellar cast of characters, and they turn in solid performances all around. “Daphne” is a fun romp in which the guitar and violin dance with each other and then fall into their own swinging solos just when they should. Babik Reinhardt pays homage to his father with restrained guitar fanfare on the rolling “Moppin’ the Bride”. And “Exactly Like You” flickers like candlelight.
But nothing ever quite goes over the top. The sound is too close, the melodies too subtle, the mood too somber. This isn’t honeymoon music, it’s anniversary music, made for listening in a minivan rather than a convertible sports car, and meant as the soundtrack to a sunny weekend day working in the yard, not for listening to while sitting in a coffee shop in the Latin Quarter while somebody paints your picture. Unless you’re pretending you’re Christopher Walken pretending you’re The Continental, Parisian Honeymoon Suite isn’t going to make you feel any more European.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Some smooth finger-picking, swaying fiddle and chic melodica can make the sunny days a little sunnier, but it’s not going to reach out and grab you. It’ll just hang there, in the background, while you do your gardening or drink your sun tea or sway on the porch swing, far away from Paris and long after the honeymoon.