by Ian Mann
October 29, 2008
DeBarre's Quartet play gypsy jazz with skill and élan. These guys are the real deal
Angelo DeBarre is a brilliant gypsy guitarist who plays in the style of Django Reinhardt. Hailing from just outside Paris the Frenchman has joined forces with three excellent British musicians to form this exceptional quartet. Violinist Christian Garrick is cast in the Stephane Grappelli role with Andy Crowdy on double bass and Dave Kelbie on rhythm guitar completing the line up.
I saw this line up give an enthralling performance to a packed house at the intimate Wyeside Art Centre in Builth Wells recently. Many of the tunes featured there appear on this excellent live album recorded at London’s prestigious Le Quecumbar venue.
The quartet specialise in covering some of Reinhardt’s less famous pieces, many of them coming from the later stages of his career. The arrangements are all by the quartet themselves and their imaginative interpretations help to keep the spirit of Django alive whilst at the same time appealing to contemporary audiences. It was good to see such a wide range of ages enjoying the music at Builth-from children to pensioners.
At Builth as on the album the quartet opened up gently with the delicate strains of “Fantasie” . Only with the following “Django’s Tiger” are the furious rhythms of the archetypal “Hot Club” sound unleashed, their effect heightened by the contrast with the relaxed nature of the opener.
“Limehouse Blues” keeps the energy levels up on the album with Garrick sawing and soaring and DeBarre also taking flight. He is a dazzling guitarist with his lightning fast runs, breakneck rhythms and astonishing string bending.
The quartet’s imaginative arrangement of “Artillerie Lourde” contains a strong blues element and throws in a quote from “Tuxedo Junction”. It’s also the vehicle for more DeBarre pyrotechnics plus a spot in the limelight from bassist Andy Crowdy who proves to be an inventive and sometimes humorous soloist as well as a fine rhythm player.
It’s not all hundred mile an hour stuff. The lovely “Vamp” is another example of the quartet’s ability to play effectively at slower tempos. The quiet intensity of DeBarre and Garrick’s playing reveals considerable emotional depth.
“Place De Brouckere” restores the momentum with solos from Garrick, Crowdy and DeBarre. Garrick is a remarkable violinist seemingly at home in any genre of jazz from Grappelli to Jean Luc Ponty. In the DeBarre Quartet he sticks to acoustic violin but he is more than happy to unleash the electric model in his own bands. Even here he throws in some modern pizzicato flourishes adding yet another dimension to this uniquely string driven format. Such is his versatility that he’s due to go out on tour with Van Morrison next year. The following “Speevy” offers yet another example of his talents.
“Lentemente Mademoiselle” slows things down again with DeBarre and Garrick intertwining over Kelbie’s gentle rhythmic impetus. As rhythm or “second” guitarist Kelbie is often overlooked. He never solos, leaving this to the sharply dressed DeBarre. Nevertheless he is the backbone of the band, his chording providing the springboard for DeBarre and Garrick’s flights of fancy. Kelbie maintains the pulse flawlessly at any speed from zero to a hundred and twenty, as demonstrated by the following “Impromptu”. But he is the backbone in other ways too, handling the announcements at concerts and manning the merchandise desk. Then there is his role as label boss and administrator of the Lejazzetal organisation. He fills the rhythm guitar role in several other bands too, among them Evan Christopher’s Django A La Creole, the oddly named George Washingmachine Quartet and the Fapy Lafertin Quartet. His love of Django Reinhardt and his music has taken him all over the world spreading the jazz gospel “Hot Club” style.
“Bolero”, “Portocabello” and “Feerie” continue to stoke the fires, the enthusiastic Quecumbar crowd spurring the musicians on. There is more bravura playing from the band as a whole with DeBarre and Garrick in particularly dazzling form. The relaxed tones of the closing “My Serenade” close the album and bookend it in pleasingly symmetrical fashion.
As in London so it was in Builth with the audience responding warmly to a well paced programme full of virtuoso musicianship. The “Hot Club” style has maintained a remarkably high level of popularity over the years, thanks in no small part to the efforts of people like Kelbie. As a result there are a lot of musicians playing in this style but few can do it with the skill and élan of the Angelo DeBarre Quartet. These guys are the real deal.
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