Tag Archives: Django a la Creole

CD Recommendations: May 2014

Evan Christopher’s Django a la Creole Live! (Fremeaux & Associes) Django a la Creole live sleeve

This international group has a loyal following thanks to its exhilarating fusion of Evan Christopher’s exotic clarinet sound with the Hot Club format of the trio, and invariably provides a five-star live listening experience so it’s no surprise that this CD, a selection of numbers recorded during its autumn 2012 tour, is nigh-on sensational. As ever, Christopher thrills with his dynamic, dramatic soloing and the exciting interplay with the superb lead guitarist David Blenkhorn. While most of the titles feature on the quartet’s previous CDs, there is a handful of new tunes – among them One For the Duke, a sublime take on the Ben Webster-Johnny Hodges number I’d Be There.

The Radio Luxembourg Sessions: The 208 Rhythm Club – Volume 2 (Vocalion)Sandy Brown sleeve 

The 208 Rhythm Club was a half-hour programme broadcast on Radio Luxembourg in the early 1960s and featuring groups promoting new recordings they had made at the Lansdowne Studios, to be issued by EMI’s Columbia subsidiary. This CD comprises two terrific 1961 sessions recently unearthed and presented here unedited and remastered – one by Al Fairweather & Sandy Brown’s All Stars and the other by Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band (featuring Tony Coe and Joe Temperley). Everyone is on top form; the Fairweather-Brown session is a typically uplifting affair, featuring such classic Brown tunes as Glories in the Evening, Harlem Fats and Bimbo, while the Lyttelton one boasts a couple of stunning Ellington numbers.

Scott Hamilton Quartet: Dean Street Nights (Woodville Records) Scott Hamilton Dean Street Nights

Dean Street, as anyone who has ever sought out top-notch jazz in London knows, is the Soho address of the Pizza Express jazz club which, for decades now, has played regular host to the great American tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton who plays residencies there several times a year. This sensational session was recorded during a final night in his festive season run of early 2012, and it shows the one-time regular fixture on the British touring circuit in magnificent form, blowing up a storm with his longstanding London trio. Highlights include a gorgeous bossa version of Sweet and Lovely (with signature, masterful Hamilton intro), a riotous Jitterbug Waltz and a sublime If I Had You.

Live at Monmartre – Nicolaj Bentzon Trio featuring Winard Harper (Storyville) Live at Montmartre

A versatile Danish pianist, composer and conductor, Nicolaj Bentzon returned to his first love, the classic jazz piano trio, for two dates at Copenhagen’s famous Jazzhus Montmartre club last summer. Given that he’s the latest star of a composing dynasty that stretches back two centuries, it’s no surprise that Bentzon’s ten-tune set includes five original numbers – notably the gentle and classical-flavoured Flyv Fugi, Flyv and Cantilena Elegiaca. His style is exciting, occasionally explosive, and (as the liner notes say) effervescent, with traces here and there of the influence of Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner.

Lee Wiley: Four Classic Albums Plus (Avid) Lee Wiley

Lee Wiley (1908-1975) is one of the most criminally overlooked jazz singers but she was, and is, one much adored by musicians. Before Ella Fitzgerald recorded her first “songbook” album, the smoky-voiced Wiley had already earned the admiration of Gershwin, Porter and co with her classy, sassy, swinging and sexy interpretations of their songs. The quartet of LPs included here stem from the 1950s and include her sublime and iconic Night in Manhattan, as well as two classic big band/orchestra albums – the glorious West of the Moon, and A Touch of the Blues.

Curtis Stigers: Hooray For Love (Concord Jazz) Curtis Stigers Hooray For Love

Given his recent track record – of dishing up exclusively (as he put it) “sad songs or songs about sex” – you might expect Down With Love to be the title song of a Curtis Stigers album, but the soulful, craggy-voiced singer has clearly turned born-again romantic in the time since his last CD was released, and is spreading the word via a mixture of swinging standards and original numbers which are new but sound as if they’ve been torn from the back pages  of the Great American Songbook. The Gershwins’ Love Is Here To Stay is served up in a particularly tasty sextet arrangement (which evokes the groovy feel of Harry Edison and Jimmy Rowles’s mid-1950s album Sweets) and is a treat to hear, but it’s those catchy new tunes – notably the title track and A Matter of Time – which linger in the mind more than the other classics.

Georgia Mancio & Nigel Price: Come Rain or Come Shine (Roomspin) Georgia Mancio

There’s a cool, classy elegance and balmy feel to this gorgeous new album from the London-based singer Georgia Mancio which – along with the voice, guitar and bass line-up (and one of the song choices) – recall the glorious Julie and Julie is Her Name records made by Julie London in the 1950s. Mancio, however, is no clone and stamps each number with her own style which is less pared-down and more daring than London’s. Her gentle, clear and beguiling voice is for the most part beautifully complemented by Nigel Price’s eloquent guitar, along with Julie Walkington on bass; stand-outs include a sublimely sultry Manha de Carnaval (well, the English language version, A Day in the Life of a Fool), a swinging Gone With the Wind and a breezily romantic Moonlight in Vermont.

Kate Daniels: Atmospherics (Loxford Records) Kate Daniels CD sleeve

Hers may not be the strongest, most arresting or distinctive voice but British singer Kate Daniels has created a strangely compelling collection of songs on this CD; an introduction to a style she intriguingly (and accurately, based on most of the evidence here) describes as “jazz noir”. These are moody, melancholy, midnight-y arrangements featuring such top British musicians as John Etheridge (guitar), John Horler (piano), Graham Pike (trumpet) and Tony Coe (tenor sax), and a voice that lends itself equally well to gently swinging ballads and gut-wrenching chansons.

Warren Vache & Alan Barnes: The Cobbler’s Waltz (Woodville Records)Vache- Barnes

If ever there were two players whose delight in each other’s playing is infectious, it’s the duo of American cornettist Vache and British clarinettist/saxophonist Barnes. Old friends and occasional colleagues, this pair clearly relish opportunities for collaborating – and that certainly shines through on this CD, even before you read Vache’s lively liner notes. More laid-back than their last outing on Woodville, this quintet recording (with top-drawer British rhythm section of John Pearce, Dave Green and Steve Brown) features an inspired mix of off-the-beaten track tunes as well as a couple of insanely catchy original numbers by Vache.

Thelonious Monk: Paris 1969 (Blue Note Records) Thelonious Monk Paris 1969

Also newly available on DVD, this is a rare recording of a late-career concert by the maverick pianist-composer Thelonious Monk (then aged 52) in the company of his longtime collaborator Charlie Rouse on tenor sax, plus a much younger bassist and drummer (17-year-old Paris Wright). Monk may have been past his creative prime, playing tunes he had played umpteen times before, and breaking in a new rhythm section – but this concert is hugely enjoyable and fresh-sounding and it went down a storm with the Parisian audience. Maybe for those of us who aren’t Monk maniacs, the slightly more mellow, older incarnation of the pianist has a particular appeal. Veteran drummer Philly Joe Jones, who had been resident in the French capital for a year, was invited up by Monk to sit in on the closing numbers.

Christine Tobin: A Thousand Kisses Deep (Trail Belle Records) Christine Tobin

Irish singer Tobin introduced the material on this album of Leonard Cohen songs at the inaugural British Vocal Jazz Festival at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe – and the concert was one of the highlights of the event. With her gutsy, powerful voice and unfussy yet passionate style, Tobin turns each song into a vivid story or portrait, and has strong accompaniment from her trio, led by guitarist Phil Robson, which is augmented to include accordion on several tracks – an addition which brings a chanson-y feel to the proceedings.

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Review: Django a la Creole

Django a la Creole, Queen’s Hotel, Lockerbie, Saturday September 29th

*****

Based on what happened on Saturday night, it’s probably safe to say that a little bit of Lockerbie now belongs to Django a la Creole, the hugely popular jazz group which – as its star soloist Evan Christopher explained – “plays a Django Reinhardt tune and adds New Orleans flavours or takes a New Orleans tune and Django-ises it”.

Right from the off, the quartet – Christopher on clarinet plus the traditional Hot Club line-up of two guitars plus bass – had the audience utterly in its thrall and going wild after every tune. The spell was cast during the opening number, Douce Ambience, on which the Christopher clarinet started out soft and tender, slow and seductive before bursting into a fiery flight of passionate fancy.

Christopher never gives the spell a chance to be broken. Even when he wasn’t in the spotlight, and the super-dextrous lead guitarist David Blenkhorn was taking centre stage, the energetic Christopher was quietly wrapping his clarinet around the guitar solo. He came over as a bit of a musical snake charmer, dancing about onstage while playing a sinewy-sounding solo during Mamanita and faux-baiting Blenkhorn on the exuberant Riverboat Shuffle.

In addition to many tunes from the band’s two existing CDs, there were some new treats which may well feature on a live album to be recorded at the end of this British tour (the Scottish portion of which they have dubbed “The Road to Carnegie Hall … Dunfermline”). These included the evocative Sweet Substitute, which Christopher sang, a glorious That’s a Plenty and The Mooche, which hasn’t been played by such a menacing and thrilling clarinet since Kenny Davern’s day.

* First published in The Scotsman on Monday, October 1st.

Evan Christopher (clarinet), David Blenkhorn and Dave Kelbie (guitars) & Sebastian Girardot (bass)

I

Douce Ambience

Riverboat Shuffle

Mamanita

Sweet Substitute

Jubilee

II

Tropical Moon

Solid Old Man

The Mooche

Manoir de mes reves

Feerie

Mood Indigo

That’s a Plenty

encore: Nuages

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Django a la Creole, Lockerbie Jazz Festival

If you’re looking for my review of Saturday night’s Django a la Creole concert at the Lockerbie Jazz Festival, and can’t wait for me to post it on this blog (which will be done after midnight – and will have a video), then please visit http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/music/news-and-features/gig-review-django-a-la-creole-with-evan-christopher-lockerbie-jazz-festival-1-2556498?utm_med

 

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2012 in Video: Django a la Creole

 

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Coming soon: Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2012

Well, I’m on my holidays but of course, this being the week running up to the Edinburgh Jazz Festival – my first love, festival-wise – I am ridiculously busy. In these desperate times for freelance journalists, I’ve had one (film) feature commissioned in the last four months; but have written two in the last 24 hours – on two aspects of the jazz festival. These will appear on here in due course.

But first.. Here are my picks for the jazz events of the next two weeks in Edinburgh. The first one is not part of the festival but a lovely way to kick it off in style – I’m talking about the Scottish Jazz Awards, which are, as of now, an annual affair and a glitzy one. They’re taking place on Thursday evening at the Queen’s Hall, and you don’t have to be part of the jazz glitterati to attend: tickets are on sale from the venue’s box office. I’ll be presenting the Best Vocalist award to either Alison Burns, Fionna Duncan or Carol Kidd. Can’t wait!

Then it’s down to the business of being a critic for the following ten days. Among the gigs I hope to attend are:

Daryl Sherman, Le Monde, Friday July 20 at 9pm

Django a la Creole, Teatro Spiegeltent, Saturday July 21 at 7.30pm

The Manhattan Transfer, Festival Theatre, Sunday July 22, 8pm

Swing 2012, Royal Overseas League, Monday July 23, 1.30pm

Orange Kellin & Morten Gunnar Larsen, Teatro Spiegeltent, Monday July 23, 6pm

A Night For Oscar: The Brian Kellock Trio/Dado Morini Quartet, Teatro Spiegeltent, Monday July 23 9pm

Curtis Stigers Up Close & Personal, Le Monde, Monday July 23 – Friday July 27, 9pm

Ken Mathieson Classic Jazz Orchestra Salutes the Kings of Jazz, Salon Elegance, Tuesday July 24, 6pm

Edinburgh Jazz Festival Orchestra – Sketches of Spain, The Individualism of Gil Evans, Queen’s Hall, Wednesday July 25, 8pm

Aga Zaryan, Salon Elegance, Wednesday July 25, 8.30pm

Cecile McLorin Salvant Quartet, Salon Elegance, Thursday July 26, 8.30pm

Diplomats of Jazz, Royal Overseas League, Friday July 27, 1.30pm

Havana Swing, Teatro Spiegeltent, Friday July 27, 5.30pm

Brian Molley & Mario Caribe Brazilian Quartet, Salon Elegance, Saturday July 28, 5.30pm

World Jazz Orchestra directed by Joe Temperley Play Duke Ellington, Festival Theatre, Saturday July 28, 8pm

Mike Hart Festival All-Stars (including Roy Williams), Teatro Spiegeltent, Sunday July 29, 5.30pm

Nova Scotia Jazz Band with Brian Kellock, Teatro Spiegeltent, Sunday July 29, 8.30pm

Colin Steele/Enzo Favata/Dave Milligan, Salon Elegance, Sunday July 29, 8.30pm

Here are some YouTube clips to give a flavour of what’s in store: 

 

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Edinburgh Jazz Festival 2011: Django a la Creole

Django a la Creole with Evan Christopher , The Hub, Wednesday July 25th *****

There must be an awful lot of musicians who are kicking themselves for not having dreamt up the concept for Django a la Creole, the quartet which fuses the gypsy jazz style and line-up with that of the traditional New Orleans jazz clarinet. Why? Because it’s such a brilliant and inspired mix – and one which, certainly on the evidence of Wednesday’s jazz festival concert at The Hub, is utterly seductive and widely appealing.
The members of the band may live in different countries, but over the course of two albums and regular tours they have clearly established a terrific relationship, yet sparks still fly when they play – and, as with the original recordings of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, the atmosphere is of sheer joie-de-vivre.

On Wednesday night, they dished up one thrilling treat after another – from a lovely repertoire that ranges from 1850s New Orleans to Hoagy Carmichael classics. Of course, much of the appeal of this uniformally top-notch band is the gorgeous and downright mesmerising clarinet playing of the flamboyant Evan Christopher who injected drama and New Orleans-style colour into every tune. As with the late, great Kenny Davern, Christopher has a flair for the theatrical (both musically and, rather distractingly, in his stage presence): in Davern style, Christopher played such quieter numbers as Mood Indigo and Solid Old Man in the lower register to begin with before exploding into a soaring flight of fancy, after holding back and almost lulling the audience into expecting that the whole tune would be soft and gentle.

 

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The Swashbuckler

The first time I saw the American clarinettist Evan Christopher in concert, I feared for his personal safety. It was a balmy Friday night at the 2004 Edinburgh Jazz Festival, the Spiegeltent (a venue less beloved by jazz fans than by drinkers) was packed, and the liveliest section of the audience was a table of well-fuelled women who were clearly in party mode. As Christopher and his fellow thirtysomething Duke Heitger (trumpet) tore through their programme of traditional New Orleans-style jazz, the hen party went nuts – and I’m sure I wasn’t the only person in the audience hoping that the musicians were as accomplished at dodging volleys of flying knickers as they were at serving up hot solos.

It was a great concert – and the reaction of the hens helped to underline the fact that this may be the oldest form of jazz but it is still vibrant, fresh, sexy and able to stir a crowd, and not necessarily a crowd of aficionados. What particularly struck me at the time was that, in Evan Christopher, here was a poster boy for traditional jazz. He had a swagger, a sense of showmanship and a swashbuckling air about him when he played that made you sit up and take as much notice of him as the music coming out of his clarinet. It’s little surprise that he has since become something of a TV star in France where his current, hugely successful band Django a La Creole – gyspy jazz with a New Orleans twist – was born while he was effectively living in self-imposed exile after losing his home in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

There may be an air of what some of the veteran musicians would regard as youthful arrogance and insouciance about Christopher (though he is now 41 years of age), but when he’s not playing, he is actually a surprisingly shy character who, it turns out, has had more than his fair share of obstacles.

Born of a Thai mother, he was adopted as a baby and raised in a predominantly white neighbourhood of Long Beach, California. For reasons he claims not to know – presumably he was gifted or exceptionally bright – he was sent to school two years early and consequently always found “the social side of school a little awkward”. He jokes about it – “basically it meant that chicks and sports didn’t enter the equation until later” – but two years is a big difference in high school, and it seems to have shaped Christopher into a self-sufficient, self-reliant character.

Indeed, he brushes off the inevitable question about how his musical talent was discovered, saying: “Music just happened to be something that I wasn’t bad at. It was something I could work at on my own; it didn’t require that I be around other people.”

It wasn’t until Christopher was in his final year of high school that his talent was taken seriously: he was invited to attend an arts boarding school. Up to that point, his experience of jazz had been gleaned from playing in the school band and from cassettes made by friends of his father, and from the LPs that his dad had in the house; Johnny Dodds (from Louis Armstrong’s legendary Hot Five and Hot Seven line-ups) and Artie Shaw emerging as his favourite clarinettists.

At this arts boarding school, Christopher was “discovered” by a bass player named Marshall Hawkins who was working as a sports teacher. “Nobody at school knew he was a professional musician but he’d go and play gigs with whoever was in town – Joe Henderson or Eddie Harris or whoever. I had broken into a classroom to play a piano, and he found me there. I didn’t get into trouble … but he corrected some of the chord changes .. He became my first jazz mentor.”

After university, Christopher did stints in Los Angeles, New Orleans and San Antonio, Texas. He was living in New Orleans, using it as a base for tours and the occasional gig on the riverboats with the afore-mentioned Heitger, when Hurricane Katrina hit, in September 2005 – a year after that famous Edinburgh gig.

When hurricane struck, Christopher was playing at a jazz festival high in the mountains of California – and with no signal on his phone. Over the course of the weekend, his then-girlfriend (now wife) tried to contact him to say that she was going to evacuate (“No big deal – we had evacuated the summer before,” he says), and asking where his passport was and whether she should take any of his instruments with her. Unable to pick up any of these messages, Christopher only learned what had happened when he saw the news a couple of days later, just at the point when the federal levees failed.

His partner was safe but their ground floor home was completely flooded – “Our area was worse than average, about eight feet of water on the street, six in the actual dwelling.” He drove his girlfriend to her parents’ home in Omaha, and he returned to his home state of California. “I set about trying to salvage my tours. I made a great effort to find other musicians and get them connected and make sure that everybody had each other’s contact information. A web designer up in New York donated some money to help me put together a website with resources for places they could get financial assistance. I hooked them up with Jazz Foundation of America if they needed instruments replaced and things like that. It was something to do.”

A month after Katrina, Christopher returned briefly to New Orleans (he only moved back full-time in 2008) to try to salvage what he could, but it was “considerably worse” than he had expected. He’s philosophical about it all. “At the end of the day, it was just an apartment-ful of crap. There are still books I go to the shelf and look for every now and then, and then I remember. There were plenty of people who lost more than I did. Imagine someone who’d actually lived there for a couple of generations..”

Has his Katrina experience changed his outlook at all? Is he less attached to stuff? “Well, I’ve never been hugely attached to anything. I didn’t appreciate losing everything though! I do get mad – I get mad when I find we have accumulated multiple items that we don’t need. Oh, I know one thing that changed – I don’t shelve wine as much any more! I pretty much buy it and drink it…”

This piece was first published when Django a la Creole was playing the 2011 Edinburgh Jazz Festival. In autumn 2012, the band is touring Scotland, England, Wales and the Republic of Ireland. For full details, click here.

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