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Evan Christopher - Finesse Rating: 4 out of 5 "Finesse" shows the Django A La Creole group at their best.

Evan Christopher’s Django A La Creole

“Finesse”

(Fremaux Associes FA527)

New Orleans based clarinettist Evan Christopher’s initial “Django A La Creole” recording was released in 2008 and was included in the Sunday Times “Best 100 CDs Of The Year” listings, coming in at no. 9 in the jazz section. 2010’s follow up “Finesse” has done even better with the paper naming Christopher’s follow up as No.1 jazz album of the year.

“Django A La Creole” has now become the name of Christopher’s band with the same personnel remaining from the previous recording. Joining Christopher on clarinet are guitarists David Blenkhorn (lead) and Dave Kelbie (rhythm) plus double bassist Sebastien Girardot. This is a stellar line up also capable of delivering excellent live performances (reviews of the previous album and of a concert given at Builth Wells are to be found elsewhere on this site).

“Finesse” appears on the French Fremaux Associes label and is released in conjunction with Kelbie’s London based lejazzetal organisation. As before it’s an exciting fusion of “Hot Club” guitar stylings with the music of New Orleans. Christopher is inspired as much by Sidney Bechet as by Django Reinhardt and he and his group serve up a fresh and tasty variation on the Reinhardt legacy.
The use of clarinet in this kind of context is not strictly speaking new, Django Reinhardt himself worked with Barney Bigard and others back in the day but the combination of clarinet and “Hot Club” style guitars is rarely seen on contemporary stages. Christopher and his colleagues also stir in other influences from sources such as Cuba and Brazil, adding to an already spicy mix.

Although Reinhardt’s influence still dominates, “Finesse” sees the group detaching itself from his repertoire. Only one title on “Finesse” was actually written by Reinhardt (as opposed to half a dozen on the previous record) although many of the tunes featured are inevitably associated with him.

Sidney Bechet’s “Tropical Moon” opens the album with Christopher’s warm clarinet tone backed by lilting Caribbean rhythms. Blenkhorn also features with a tasteful deployment of the electric guitar.
It’s a beautifully relaxed way to commence the album and as we’ve come to expect the playing from all four protagonists is excellent.

“Finesse” itself is credited here to bassist Billy Taylor although there are some doubts as to the tune’s authorship. Reinhardt himself subsequently recorded the piece with Ellington band members Taylor, Bigard and trumpeter Rex Stewart. The version here opens with Blenkhorn’s guitar before Girardot’s bass takes over the lead. The introduction of Christopher’s clarinet relocates the tune to New Orleans albeit with an underlying Latin rhythm, a homage To Jelly Roll Morton’s famous “Spanish Tinge” perhaps? Christopher and Blenkhorn exchange phrases in delightful fashion as the tune unfolds delightfully.

Hoagy Carmichael’s “Riverboat Shuffle” increases the pace as Christopher solos warmly and fluently above a chugging “Hot Club” rhythm. As I’ve remarked before rhythm guitarist Kelbie, the backbone of the band, is comfortable at any tempo and this piece offers a good example of his abilities. There are delightful cameos from Blenkhorn and Girardot on this spirited romp.

The tune “Django A La Creole” itself is a Christopher original based on Reinhardt themes and arranged in the “Spanish Tinge”  manner of Morton. It’s an immaculately crafted homage to two of Christopher’s primary influences.

Rex Stewart’s blues “Solid Old Man” which originally came from the same sessions as “Finesse” reveals another side to Christopher’s playing with some deliciously bent “blue notes”. Girardot provides another delightful bass cameo and there’s a relaxed but bluesy solo from Blenkhorn. Kelbie’s rhythm guitar adopts a “shuffle” pattern utilised by Reinhardt himself when backing other soloists.

“Songe d’Automme” or (“Autumn Dream”) was actually written by an Englishman, Archibald Joyce. Originally a waltz it was re-arranged and recorded in swing style by Django Reinhardt in 1947. Christopher has tweaked the arrangement again, giving the tune a samba twist. His clarinet gives the song a suitably autumnal golden glow with characteristically immaculate support coming from his three colleagues. Blenkhorn shares the spotlight with the leader, his guitar solo suitably warm and conversational.

“Jubilee” is another Hoagy Carmichael tune and was made famous by Louis Armstrong in the 1938 film “Every Day’s A Holiday”.Armstrong appeared in the film leading a New Orleans street parade and this version is correspondingly jaunty and good humoured. Blenkhorn’s guitar takes Armstrong’s trumpet part and he tosses in quotes from other Armstrong tunes such as “St. Louis Blues” and Mahogany Hall Stomp” plus Reinhardt’s “Belleville”. Great fun, with some dazzling high register clarinet work from Christopher.

“Creole Eyes” (or “Ojos Criollos”) dates back to 1859 and is the work of pianist and ethno-musicologist Louis Moreau Gottschalk of New Orleans. Gottschalk was the first to fuse Cuban and African elements with European Romantic Classical music and Christopher’s version opens with a delightful duet between Blenkhorn and Girardot before his clarinet warmly expresses Gottschalk’s lushly Romantic melody. Blenkhorn’s solo is similarly courtly, underpinned by Girardot’s double bass. The whole thing is really rather lovely.

Reinhardt’s “Feerie” comes as a total contrast. This fast, furious and notably difficult piece is delivered by the quartet at a rapid clip with solos coming from Christopher, Blenkhorn and Girardot. The most obviously “gypsy” piece on the record it’s the only Reinhardt original on the album. Christopher and friends more than do it justice, handling the breakneck tempos with ease and aplomb.

Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” is one of the most played pieces in the jazz repertoire. Reinhardt’s old sparring partner Barney Bigard also had a hand in the writing so it’s only appropriate that it’s featured here. The tune is played as a slow, smouldering blues with extensive features for Girardot and Blenkhorn but climaxes with an unusual coda containing hints of an unexpected dissonance.

Another Sidney Bechet tune bookends the album nicely. “Passaporte ao Paraiso” (“Passport To Paradise”) is as relaxed and exotic as the opening “Tropical Moon” with Christopher and his colleagues signing off in the style of a Brazilian Choro. There are final memorable solos from Christopher and Blenkhorn with Kelbie and Girardot as tastefully supportive as ever.

“Finesse” shows the Django A La Creole group at their best. The playing throughout is warm and skilfully executed and the choice of material makes for an interesting and innovative exploration of the Reinhardt legacy. If memory serves it’s also better recorded than it’s predecessor with every nuance of Christopher’s fluent and expressive playing superbly captured by producer Kelbie and engineer Dylan Fowler. Despite the release on a French label the album was actually recorded at Fowler’s studio near Abergavenny.

This may not be the most challenging of releases but the warmth and skill of the playing and the imagination of the arrangements makes for hugely enjoyable listening. In the hands of these guys it’s easy to see why the Django Reinhardt style has remained so enduringly popular.   

Finesse

Evan Christopher

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Reviewed by: Ian Mann

Album Review

4 out of 5

Finesse

"Finesse" shows the Django A La Creole group at their best.

Evan Christopher’s Django A La Creole

“Finesse”

(Fremaux Associes FA527)

New Orleans based clarinettist Evan Christopher’s initial “Django A La Creole” recording was released in 2008 and was included in the Sunday Times “Best 100 CDs Of The Year” listings, coming in at no. 9 in the jazz section. 2010’s follow up “Finesse” has done even better with the paper naming Christopher’s follow up as No.1 jazz album of the year.

“Django A La Creole” has now become the name of Christopher’s band with the same personnel remaining from the previous recording. Joining Christopher on clarinet are guitarists David Blenkhorn (lead) and Dave Kelbie (rhythm) plus double bassist Sebastien Girardot. This is a stellar line up also capable of delivering excellent live performances (reviews of the previous album and of a concert given at Builth Wells are to be found elsewhere on this site).

“Finesse” appears on the French Fremaux Associes label and is released in conjunction with Kelbie’s London based lejazzetal organisation. As before it’s an exciting fusion of “Hot Club” guitar stylings with the music of New Orleans. Christopher is inspired as much by Sidney Bechet as by Django Reinhardt and he and his group serve up a fresh and tasty variation on the Reinhardt legacy.
The use of clarinet in this kind of context is not strictly speaking new, Django Reinhardt himself worked with Barney Bigard and others back in the day but the combination of clarinet and “Hot Club” style guitars is rarely seen on contemporary stages. Christopher and his colleagues also stir in other influences from sources such as Cuba and Brazil, adding to an already spicy mix.

Although Reinhardt’s influence still dominates, “Finesse” sees the group detaching itself from his repertoire. Only one title on “Finesse” was actually written by Reinhardt (as opposed to half a dozen on the previous record) although many of the tunes featured are inevitably associated with him.

Sidney Bechet’s “Tropical Moon” opens the album with Christopher’s warm clarinet tone backed by lilting Caribbean rhythms. Blenkhorn also features with a tasteful deployment of the electric guitar.
It’s a beautifully relaxed way to commence the album and as we’ve come to expect the playing from all four protagonists is excellent.

“Finesse” itself is credited here to bassist Billy Taylor although there are some doubts as to the tune’s authorship. Reinhardt himself subsequently recorded the piece with Ellington band members Taylor, Bigard and trumpeter Rex Stewart. The version here opens with Blenkhorn’s guitar before Girardot’s bass takes over the lead. The introduction of Christopher’s clarinet relocates the tune to New Orleans albeit with an underlying Latin rhythm, a homage To Jelly Roll Morton’s famous “Spanish Tinge” perhaps? Christopher and Blenkhorn exchange phrases in delightful fashion as the tune unfolds delightfully.

Hoagy Carmichael’s “Riverboat Shuffle” increases the pace as Christopher solos warmly and fluently above a chugging “Hot Club” rhythm. As I’ve remarked before rhythm guitarist Kelbie, the backbone of the band, is comfortable at any tempo and this piece offers a good example of his abilities. There are delightful cameos from Blenkhorn and Girardot on this spirited romp.

The tune “Django A La Creole” itself is a Christopher original based on Reinhardt themes and arranged in the “Spanish Tinge”  manner of Morton. It’s an immaculately crafted homage to two of Christopher’s primary influences.

Rex Stewart’s blues “Solid Old Man” which originally came from the same sessions as “Finesse” reveals another side to Christopher’s playing with some deliciously bent “blue notes”. Girardot provides another delightful bass cameo and there’s a relaxed but bluesy solo from Blenkhorn. Kelbie’s rhythm guitar adopts a “shuffle” pattern utilised by Reinhardt himself when backing other soloists.

“Songe d’Automme” or (“Autumn Dream”) was actually written by an Englishman, Archibald Joyce. Originally a waltz it was re-arranged and recorded in swing style by Django Reinhardt in 1947. Christopher has tweaked the arrangement again, giving the tune a samba twist. His clarinet gives the song a suitably autumnal golden glow with characteristically immaculate support coming from his three colleagues. Blenkhorn shares the spotlight with the leader, his guitar solo suitably warm and conversational.

“Jubilee” is another Hoagy Carmichael tune and was made famous by Louis Armstrong in the 1938 film “Every Day’s A Holiday”.Armstrong appeared in the film leading a New Orleans street parade and this version is correspondingly jaunty and good humoured. Blenkhorn’s guitar takes Armstrong’s trumpet part and he tosses in quotes from other Armstrong tunes such as “St. Louis Blues” and Mahogany Hall Stomp” plus Reinhardt’s “Belleville”. Great fun, with some dazzling high register clarinet work from Christopher.

“Creole Eyes” (or “Ojos Criollos”) dates back to 1859 and is the work of pianist and ethno-musicologist Louis Moreau Gottschalk of New Orleans. Gottschalk was the first to fuse Cuban and African elements with European Romantic Classical music and Christopher’s version opens with a delightful duet between Blenkhorn and Girardot before his clarinet warmly expresses Gottschalk’s lushly Romantic melody. Blenkhorn’s solo is similarly courtly, underpinned by Girardot’s double bass. The whole thing is really rather lovely.

Reinhardt’s “Feerie” comes as a total contrast. This fast, furious and notably difficult piece is delivered by the quartet at a rapid clip with solos coming from Christopher, Blenkhorn and Girardot. The most obviously “gypsy” piece on the record it’s the only Reinhardt original on the album. Christopher and friends more than do it justice, handling the breakneck tempos with ease and aplomb.

Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” is one of the most played pieces in the jazz repertoire. Reinhardt’s old sparring partner Barney Bigard also had a hand in the writing so it’s only appropriate that it’s featured here. The tune is played as a slow, smouldering blues with extensive features for Girardot and Blenkhorn but climaxes with an unusual coda containing hints of an unexpected dissonance.

Another Sidney Bechet tune bookends the album nicely. “Passaporte ao Paraiso” (“Passport To Paradise”) is as relaxed and exotic as the opening “Tropical Moon” with Christopher and his colleagues signing off in the style of a Brazilian Choro. There are final memorable solos from Christopher and Blenkhorn with Kelbie and Girardot as tastefully supportive as ever.

“Finesse” shows the Django A La Creole group at their best. The playing throughout is warm and skilfully executed and the choice of material makes for an interesting and innovative exploration of the Reinhardt legacy. If memory serves it’s also better recorded than it’s predecessor with every nuance of Christopher’s fluent and expressive playing superbly captured by producer Kelbie and engineer Dylan Fowler. Despite the release on a French label the album was actually recorded at Fowler’s studio near Abergavenny.

This may not be the most challenging of releases but the warmth and skill of the playing and the imagination of the arrangements makes for hugely enjoyable listening. In the hands of these guys it’s easy to see why the Django Reinhardt style has remained so enduringly popular.   


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