Django Unstrung

The loss of regular live Jazz at the Harp my well have severely reduced my options in seeing live bands within a respectable travelling radius so image my surprise when I discovered that the Boycott Arms was doing a mini Jazz festival it was good news, so with my free night on Wednesday I made my way across to Claverly for the gypsy Jazz Band “Bon Accord”, which as one might expect was a tribute to the legendary three-and-a-half fingered Jazz Guitarist Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club de France. Now what set this aside from most of the Gypsy Jazz bands of today was that it wasn’t a purely string based set-up a la the classic Hot Club line up that was fronted by Django and violinist Stephane Grappelli, but modelled on a later set-up which featured Clarinet and Accordion.

Due to a mix up with starting times for the gig and the need to fill the car with jungle juice I was a little late arriving at the gig and was somewhat surprising by the turn out for the gig: two other people. This must be somewhat disconcerting for the band to put all this effort in for such a small delivery, at first I wondered if it was the curse of the accordion but Sian and Katherine reminded me that it was the Wales game in the Euro and seeing as Wales was the last team from the UK in the tournament a good proportion of the football audience suddenly discovered they were Welsh and no doubt those not football inclined did not want to venture out. Having said all that, the band leader did say at the end of the gig that it was the only performance he has ever done in which the entire audience stayed for the duration so every cloud… also it meant that there was issue with people chattering over the music which is the bane of Remi Harris Phil Probert gigs.

As I walked in and set at a table and chair which were so wobbly they made the scenery from Blake’s 7 seem sturdy, the band started a number called “It Was So Beautiful” which was a nice laid back number despite the name sounding like the vocal version of Meyer’s “Cavitina”, after this there was a upbeat version of the Jazz Standard “I Got Rhythm” with a small vocal refrain from the guitarist. Bit of trivia, did you know that the Lester Young piece “Lester Leaps In” was based on the chord progression of “I Got Rhythm”? The first set closed with “Out of Nowhere” which has good jazz pedigree thanks to versions by Bing Crosby and later the pioneering Bebop saxophonist Charlie Parker and the Duke Ellington number “Caravan”. Curiously enough I was surprised to learn “Caravan” was a popular number in the gypsy jazz circuit, this surprised me as to me it reeks of a number designed to be performed with the rise and swells of a Big Band and has long being a feature piece for jazz drummers. That part of the tunes tradition was upheld by the band as the drummer went to town on the piece with his solo, perhaps not to the extremes shown in the movie Whiplash but a good solo none the less.

Now since the second set was very much a group piece I won’t break down details number by number but only mention a few, the set opened with a number which I think was called “Sange Matin” but I could be totally wrong on this and this was followed by two more Reinhardt compositions namely “Swing Guitars” and “Blue Drag”. After this was a number which was composed by the Hot Club de France’s Accordion player called Gus something or other (no that really was his name, I didn’t miss what his surname was. Honest), which was written after he left the band and judging by the name of the piece, probably after Django had passed: “When Django Played”. This was as the name suggests a slowly melancholy number and I noted that during the Accordion solo that the player seemed to harking to “Peg O’ My Heart”, the tune which opened and closed the classic Dennis Potter mini-series The Singing Detective from the 1980s. A bit later on the band performed a French composition which is a well seasoned Jazz Standard called “Les Feuilles Mortes”, ok just in case you are scratching your heads it is better known by its English title which is “Autumn Leaves.” Now no Django Reinhardt style band would be complete without a performance of perhaps his most famous composition whose titles translates as “Clouds” in English, but in the complete reverse of the pervious number it is most well known with its French title “Nuages”. It was a good take on the number even if the Clarinet player did avoid the opening bars of the number on the original recording, but never mind. The gig closed with a popular Jazz standard in both the Gypsy Jazz circles and modern Jazz environments (check out the recording of the number by Jimmy Smith on the Blue Note album Cool Blues) which is a traditional Russian folk tune called “Dark Eyes” (or “Les Yeux Noir” in French). Despite the low turnout for the gig, the band played on and were upmost professional through out and ultimately it was a shame that so many people missed out on such a good gig. There was a warm feeling of a French Café throughout the gig and hopefully “Bon Accord” will be going El Fresco at a French themed night at some point in the future.

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