Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Nov 12th 2009 5:00PM by Tad Hendrickson
In its 10th year, the Django Reinhardt New York Festival is one of the first in the US. Held this year Nov. 3-8 at New York's Birdland, the standard M.O. of this event is to bring authentic gypsy swing jazz musicians from Europe and have them play with a variety of New York-based musicians during the course of the festival. This both adds a jam session feel to the music and also brings in outside influences to the relatively rigid parameters of the genre. This agenda was on full display during the first set of Sunday the 8th.
A night of Reinhardt's music is measured first and foremost in the ability of the guitarists, and this set featured four. Even so, it was easy to see that the standout of the evening was elder statesmen Tchavolo Schmitt. Nattily dressed in a crimson sport coat, he was easy to spot onstage, but it was this gypsy's playing that was hard to miss. Like Reinhardt, Schmitt was technically adept but played with a stylish flair that matched his outfit: Each lead told a story that had a dramatic arc to it, and his accompaniment was ferocious as it simultaneously drove the music while also toying with harmonies and the relentless down strokes of rhythm playing. It was a bravura performance that overshadowed younger guitarists Samson Schmitt (son of guitar great Dorado Schmitt and cousin to Tchavolo), Andreas Oberg and Ted Gottegan. Perhaps it's a choice of the younger musicians to do a stricter reading of the tradition; whatever the reason, each generally played with dazzling proficiency but with too many arpeggio flurries that sounded like exercises in speed and precision.
Bassist Brian Torff proved to be an able support player, often soloing as well and generally showing a warm sense of humor as MC while players shuttled on- and offstage between songs. Keeping the tradition of Grappelli's fiery violin alive, gypsy Aurore Voilque filled that role well, though she appeared for only half the songs. Accordion player Ludovic Beier played most of the set and, along with Voilque, provided a nice European café feel to the proceedings while offering meaty solos when called upon.
The set was composed of jazz standards like 'Body and Soul,' 'It Had to be You,' 'What's This Thing Called Love' as well as Reinhardt classics like set opener 'Coquette,' 'Stompin at Decca,' 'J'attendrai' and 'Minor Swing.' The standard approach was to play the songs' melodies and then trade solos among the players, much as jazzmen have been doing for decades. It's a format that gets a little old after a while, but the rotation of the players kept the evening lively.
The festival rotates different guests each night, and this evening's were trumpet/flügelhorn player Dominick Farinacci, pianist Peter Beets and Colombian harpist Edmar Castaneda. Piano is nothing new to the genre (Reinhardt employed one often), and the trumpet fit right in, too. The harpist, on the other hand, was a real surprise for those not familiar with Castaneda, who has single-handedly redefined the instrument with a mind-blowing style that can fill a room with sound as easily as any pianist could. Late in the set, Castaneda and Beier dueted wonderfully on a yet-to-be named tune that wasn't strictly hot jazz, but the conversation was wonderful all the same, drawing some of the biggest applause of the set.
The night concluded with a jam that featured all 10 players. By now, the crowd had become familiar (if they weren't already) with the playing of each musician, and as they took turns soloing it was sort of a brief individual good-bye to the audience. There was no formal order to it, and the piece had the feel of a late-night jam even if the musicians had another set to go that night. Then again, based on the obvious enjoyment in the faces of musicians as they played, chances are that the jam probably continued in the dressing room before they even got to the late set.
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