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Category: gypsy jazz

New Bojaira Bring Flamenco Jazz Drama and Mystery to Alphabet City

In Spain, a bojaira is an irrigation canal which originated in Moorish antiquity. New Bojaira play a kinetic, distinctively Spanish style of music which draws equally on flamenco and American jazz, with several latin sounds mixed in. Bandleader/pianist Jesus Hernández blends a resonant chordal attack with a keen sense of the blues. They’re bringing their dynamic show to Drom on May 26 at 7:30 PM; you can get in for $20 in advance. As a bonus, the arguably even fierier, Balkan-tinged New York Gypsy All-Stars play afterward at 9:30.

Like most New York bands, New Bojaira haven’t recorded an album since before the 2020 lockdown. Their most recent release Zorongo Blu came out in 2017 and is streaming at their music page.

How demonic is the opening number. El Demonio Llama a Mi Puerta (Soleá Blues)? Not particularly. Hernández shifts elegantly through a series of rhythms in tandem with bassist Tim Ferguson and drummer Mark Holen, guest Randy Brecker contributing a couple of spacious, thoughtful trumpet solos. In his impassioned, melismatic voice, singer Alfonso Cid pays tribute to the pleasures of the night.

Jaleos del Celoso Extremeño (hard to translate – “jealousy is a bitch,” more or less) is more rhythmically tricky and bustling, Peter Brainin contributing a couple of fanged, acidic solos on soprano sax. La Africana (Guajira) begins on the slow and intense side, Cid’s flute intertwining with Brainin’s smoky tenor sax for suspenseful, rather otherworldly harmonies, echoed by Hernández’s tantalizingly glittery lines a little later.

Ferguson opens Green Room with a slinky solo, Hernández swinging it with a catchy chordal punch: it’s a cabaret anthem without words. Farruca de Argel features flamenco star Sergio Gómez el Colorao weaving wintrily above the the artfully syncopated sway as Hernández edges further outside.

Brainin trills and sails through the group’s cover of Round Midnight, reinvented as a boomy bossa with an understatedly simmering piano solo and an incisive one from the bass. Cid offers a fervent invocation to open the album’s title track, Hernández fanning the flames with a spiraling, glistening solo.

Holen ices the atmosphere with his cymbals to open Ese Meneo (That Wiggle), the group working a tightly circling triplet groove over Hernández’s lingering chords as the song grows more wryly anthemic, in a Fats Waller vein.

No Encuentro Tu Pasión (meaning essentially “I can’t get to you”) is a rumba with loose-limbed bass and piano solos, and tastily chromatic, blustery flute. The album’s final cut is Vente Pa’ Broadway, Hernández’s immersive Rhodes piano contrasting with the ecstatic buleria rhythm. Global travel may be problematic right now but this band can transport you to a moonlit Granada of the mind.

A Sophisticated, Cleverly Lyrical, Climactic Studio Album From Paris Combo

Paris Combo take care to explain that their latest and possibly final album Quesaco – streaming at Bandcamp – is Covid-free. Notwithstanding the record’s characteristically slinky good cheer, there’s a tragic backstory. Like so many albums recorded in 2019, it was scheduled for release the following year. But their tour fell victim to the totalitarian takeover, and frontwoman/accordionist Belle de Berry died s that fall, soon after a cancer diagnosis. Would she be alive today if there had been no lockdown and she could have received early treatment? We’ll never know.

At least she went out at the top of her game. The band open with the album’s title track, Provençal slang for “what’s up?” It’s a lush, Balkan-tinged swing nocturne packed with cynical rhymes, beginning with a sun, who as du Berry tells it, doesn’t give a fuck about the approaching nightfall. It aptly capsulizes her indomitable, deviously playful worldview.

Paris Combo first took shape as a Romany-tinged swing band but quickly developed a distinctively upbeat, often witheringly satirical blend of sophisticated art-rock, jazz manouche and cinematic pop. Including this one, they put out a grand total of seven albums: all of them are worth getting your hands on.

The second track on this one is Barre Espace, du Berry’s gently caustic commentary on the atomization that inevigtably awaits those who abandon the real world for the virtual one. Bassist Benoît Dunoyer de Segonzac, drummer François Jeannin and percussionist Rémy Kaprielan lay down a pillowy. understated cumbia groove for pianist David Lewis and guitarist Potzi.

They stroll briskly through Seine de la vie parisienne, du Berry’s puns beginning with the title, Potzi taking a spiky, Djangoesque solo midway through. She reaches for a reggaeton-inspired delivery over Lewis’ organ and trumpet in Panic á bord (rough translation: Breaking Point), a bouncy but brooding Balkan/cumbia mashup.

Maudit money (Damn Money) is part hip-hop, part oldschool 70s disco, part Manu Chao, with a wry Nancy Sinatra reference. Du Berry holds off on the WWI references until the end of Premiére guerre as she contemplates a more psychological, interior battle, rising from balmy and lingering to a triumphant strut and then back.

Shivery strings and soaring trumpet interchange in Axe imaginaire (Imaginary Path, or close to it), a subtle battle-of-the-sexes metaphor. The band go back to a disco stroll in Cap ou pas cap (slang for “yes or no?”), Lewis’ trumpet sputtering and Potzi’s guitar spiraling over a sleek backdrop and du Berry’s coy enticement.

Guitar and trumpet reach for a simmering flamenco ambience over a suspenseful, cumbia-tinged groove in Tendre émoi (this one’s hard to translate: “tender confrontation” or “make a scene, tenderly” would work, prosaically). Du Berry takes a rare turn into English on track ten, Do you think, as the band go back to a bittersweet cumbia sway. They close the record with the low-key, reflective Romany swing shuffle Paresser par ici (rough translation: Hanging Around). Maybe someday if we’re lucky we can get a retrospective live album out of this fantastic and underappreciated band. And even if we don’t, this is one of the best of 2022 so far.

Aigua Put a Gorgeous, Poignant New Spin on Traditional Spanish Songs

Aigua play counteriutuitive Spanish folk tunes.

It’s always validating to hear a song and imagine the perfect way to drive a verse or chorus home…and then hear the band playing that riff exactly as you had envisioned it. The Spanish duo’s electrifying yet subtle new album Nonino – streaming at Bandcamp – is full of moments like that. One of them happens about a couple of minutes into the first song, where guitarist Joan Peiró Aznar caps off a verse with an elegant descent into a minor sixth chord that you have to imagine, since he doesn’t actually hit it.

Pure magic.

Meanwhile, melodeon player Lies Hendrix is way up in the mix, supplying a turbulent river of immersive multi-reed nectar.

That song, Decimes de la Mara Tierra is an antiwar tango. The duo follow that with a similarly plaintive instrumental, Bruidsmazurka, Aznar again delivering the coups de grace amid Henrix’s swaying rivers of sound.

This is typical of the duo’s update on Spanish folk music. On one hand, it can be stately and antique. On the other, their sizzling chops and attention to poignant detail give their material an immediacy that transcends its ancient origins or influences.

Aznar sings Les Dones de L’Almacen with an expressive, wistful intensity, Hendrix picking up the pace as the guitar shifts from insistent chords to a playful intertwine. The minimalistic melodeon-and-vocal arrangement of L’Estrela del Vetlatori also ramps up the bittersweetness. Then they pick up the pace with a spirited dance, Ja Ve L’Horabaixa, equally infused with flamenco and Belgian musette.

Aznar lurks in the background in Borreiada as the rhythms and atmosphere morph from tricky and enigmatic to a wryly jaunty hornpipe dance. The most disarmingly attractive song on the album is Illa del Sal, a bolero with an unexpectedly jazz-tinged guitar solo.

There’s a practically stern flamenco pulse to Fandango de Aiora. Delicate Genius is ridiculously funny and the most modern-sounding, Django Reinhardt-influenced track here.

The two musicians follow that with the cosmopolitan, shapeshifting grey-sky musette L’Amelanchier and close with the sober, low-key title track.

Sizzling Noir Swing in the Black Hills on the First of the Month

Back in 2018, Minneapolis band Miss Myra & the Moonshiners put out one of the most darkly electrifying oldtime swing albums of the century. The band’s lineup has shifted a bit since then, but they’re still ripping up stages across the northern United States. That record, Sunday Sinning, is still streaming at their music page, and the band have a gig on Oct 1 at 7 PM at the Monument, 444 Mt Rushmore Rd. in Rapid City, South Dakota. Cover is $27.50, but students get in for ten bucks less.

If the creepy, hi-de-ho side of swing is your thing, don’t blink on this record like this blog did the first time around. The group have the chutzpah to start it with their own theme song, Miss Myra leading the sinister romp with her voice and Django-inspired, briskly percussive guitar attack, lead guitarist Zane Fitzgerald Palmer and clarinetist Sam Skavnak spicing the the doomy ambience from trumpeter Bobby J Marks and trombonist Nathan Berry. Tuba player Isaac Heath provides a fat pulse with nimble color from drummer Angie Frisk.

They play Sheik of Araby with a hint of noir bolero on the intro, then they go scrambling with a hearty jump blues-style call-and-response between Myra and the guys. The Kaiser, an ominously steady klezmer swing tune, has bowed bass and a sinister bass clarinet solo from Skavnak before Palmer goes spiraling up into the clouds.

Likewise, Miss Myra’s creepy downward chromatics in Egyptian Ella, Skavnak’s clarinet front and center. Everybody Loves My Baby is brassier – five songs in, and we’re still in a minor key. Sunday Sinning (Palmer’s Bar) features a sizzling tradeoff from the clarinet to Palmer’s guitar solo. They close the record with the stomping, brisk Red Hot & Blue Rhythm – the only major-key song on the record – the ending screams out for audience participation. South Dakotans are obviously in for a treat on the first of the month.

A Sizzling New Romany Jazz Album by Marbin

Marbin are a Chicago institution, pushing the envelope as far as the infinite directions a band can go in using Django Reinhardt as a stepping-off point. Their new album Fernweh (German for “wanderlust”) is streaming at Bandcamp and interestingly is one of their more trad, Belleville-influenced efforts, without the diversions toward the Middle East and klezmer that they’ve taken throughout their career. As well-worn as this material is, these takes are fresh and relentlessly inspired. Fans of this era’s best Romany jazz artists, like Stephane Wrembel, will not be disappointed. The solos on this record are just plain off the hook.

They open with a lively, shuffling Romany jazz take of All of Me with some electrifyingly rapidfire, crystalline soprano sax cascades from Danny Markovitch. Guitarist Dani Rabin gives the trio’s version of Stardust a long, sparkling, solo intro, Markovitch providing elegantly glissando-spiced solos around the guitarist’s feathery break.

Their version of Dark Eyes is a brisk launching pad for Rabin’s supersonic, light-fingered volleys and a triumphant Markovitch soprano solo out. They do Georgia On My Mind as an uptempo shuffle with some sizzling tremolo-picking from Rabin and a clever, conversational outro.

Rabin alternates between sageness and ferocity, Markovitch offering more spine-tingling spirals in this version of Minor Swing. They slow down over bassist Jon Nadel’s steady, calm pulse for Nuages, Markovitch floating over Rabin’s dynamically textured multitracks.

Rabin can’t resist some wry Wes Montgomery in Honeysuckle Rose, Markovitch on alto and then soprano. He spins and sizzles in a subtly crescendoing interpretation of I’ll See You In My Dreams; likewise, Rabin slays with his subtly blues-infused solo

Markovitch’s shivery trills and Rabin’s wry popcorn-machine blips elevate Confessin’ above the level of cheese. They wind up the record with a bristling, bustling take of Swing Gitane. Despite the disastrous effects of the lockdown, there’s still been a ton of good original jazz coming out this year. Even so, this collection earns a spot on the list of best albums of the year.

Playful, Inventive, Outside-the-Box Romany-Inspired Jazz and Reinvented Classical Themes

Violinist Gabe Terracciano‘s album Three Part Invention – streaming at Bandcamp – is a lot of fun, with very inventive arrangements and ideas springboarding off a familiar three-piece Romany jazz setup: guitar, violin and bass. Guitarist Josh Dunn has his Django Reinhardt parts down cold but also gets to indulge in some nimble classical guitar and other styles while bassist Ian Hutchison holds the center, even when he’s in rapidfire mode.

Throughout the record, there are some welcome and unexpected interludes for solo bass, particularly in Dance for Jimmy a bluesy strut with less obvious Romany jazz influence and spare, surrealistically descending solos from guitar and violin

The most obvious Django Reinhardt/Stephane Grappelli influence is in the trio’s take of Crazy Rhythm. Violin and guitar double each other in the undulating but motoring Fleche D’Or, with some breathtakingly shivery violin work from Terracciano.

The piece de resistance here is the austerely airy, lingering, tantalizingly brief arrangement of Erik Satie’s iconically haunting Gymnopedie No. 3. They rename the famous baroque tune Invention No. 4 as “Beautiful Love,” moving from a rapid stroll to fugal exchanges between guitar and violin, Terracciano taking Bach to Belleville.

A lot of people have taken Beethoven’s Pathetique to new places; this one is a mashup of the baroque with distant Celtic tinges.

Terracciano switches to viola for a stark, spacious take of Alex North’s love theme from the 1960 movie Spartacus, leaving behind waltzing nostalgia for more incisive terrain and an all-too-brief, poignantly dancing bass-guitar interlude. And Sweet Chorus comes across as an emphatic, strolling take of Sweet Sue with biting violin and expansively chordal guitar.

Vividly Nuanced Rainy-Day Balkan Songs From Amira Medunjanin

Amira Medunjanin is a very subtle singer. The Bosnian chanteuse doesn’t overdo it: she draws you into her poignant Balkan songs. Her darkly thoughtful, jazz-tinged 2015 album Damar is streaming at Spotify.

The album’s first track, Pjevat Cemo Sta Nam Srce Zna (We’ll Sing What the Heart Knows) is a calmly syncopated, elegant blend of pensive minor-key Mitteleuropean folk and jazz. Likewise, Tvojte Oci Leno Mori is a spare, hushed, balletesque take on what could be a boisterous fiddle-driven Balkan dance.

Medunjanin’s quiet, loomingly plaintive vocals over moody cello and guitar as the rubato ballad Vjetar Nuzu Poloikuje gets underway transcends any linguistic limitation; then Bojan Zulfikarpašić’s slightly out-of-tune piano adds Chopinesque ripples to the mix

Delicate echo phrases from the acoustic guitars – Boško Jović and Ante Gelo -introduce the trickily rhythmic Romany song More Izgrejala Sjajna Mesecina (rough translation: Moonlight on the Ocean), livened by rippling piano over the nimble rhythm section (bassist Zvonimir Šestak and Zulfikarpašić doing double duty on percussion).

With its spare, fingerpicked guitar-and-vocal intro and a ringing Portuguese guitar solo midway through, Kad Ja Podoh Na Bentbasu has echoes of fado music. Medunjanin’s tenderly ornamented vocals mingle with spare, spacious, echoing piano in Moj Golube, Moj Golube (My Love, My Love).

Passion simmers but never quite spills over the edge of the pot in Moj Dilbere, a pulsingly suspenseful, chromatically charged Romany love song: Jenny Luna’s work with magical Turkish band Dolunay comes to mind. The album’s hypnotic, almost conspiratorial title cut has bolero, blues and surreal doubletracked piano and organ cached within its minimalist jazz pulse. Medunjanin saves her most impassioned, imploring vocal for the album’s final cut, Aj Sto Cemo Ljubav Kriti, over a pensive expanse of low-key flamenco-esque guitar.

Escape to Paris in the 1930s with Chloe Perrier

The point of chanteuse Chloe Perrier’s new album Petite Fleur, with her French Heart Jazz Band – streaming at Spotify – is that these are dark times, and she wants to give everyone a little escape to a better time and place. Les Deux Magots in the Quartier Latin, smoky and electric…but with sounds far more cross-pollinated than even the musical mecca that was prewar Paris could have conjured at the time.

Over the past couple of years, Perrier and the band have been playing a mix of classic chanson, Romany jazz and American standards, many of them reinvented with counterintuitive panache. Everything on the album has been thoroughly crowd-tested: until the lockdown, Perrier and the group maintained a tough schedule of club and hotel bar gigs. And even though this is an upbeat album, she’s never sung with more depth and gravitas than she does here.

The album’s opening track, Charles Trenet’s Menilmontant, is one that Perrier really excels with. This is a particularly bright, brisk version, with scurrying guitar from Akira Ishiguro and cheery clarinet by guest Jon Hunt over the scampering shuffle of bassist Jim Robertson and colorful drummer Rodrigo Recabarren. Perrier’s clear, unselfconscious, personable vocals are the icing on the cake.

She sings the old klezmer-jazz standard Comes Love in French, with a vivid wistfulness, over a syncopated, bouncy bolero beat, violinist Caroline Bugala adding cosmopolitan flair. The group revisit that milieu later on, in their version of Sway.

Perrier returns to the Trenet songbook for a relatively slow, swinging, Django-and-Stephane-tinged take of Que reste-t-il de nos amours and then follows that by reinventing Helen Merrill’s Just Squeeze Me as the coy Lorsque tu m’embrasses.

Then Perrier pays a jaunty visit to “le pays aux oiseaux” – you could do the same if the 44th Street club immortalized in the song hadn’t been shut down by Il Duce in Albany. She goes deep into the expat subtext of the old Josephine Baker hit J’ai deux amours over a steady shuffle, then she sings Coquette in English as the band leap and bound elegantly behind her.

Guilty, a knowingly enigmatic take on the big hit by British crooner Al Bowlly, was included on the soundtrack to the film Amélie. The inevitable version of La vie en rose here gets redone with a Djangoesque pulse, triumphant energy from Perrier and Bugala.

Ray Ventura’s Je voudrais en savoir d’avantage gets a verdant workout with sailing violin and guitar solos. Perrier and band close the record with an absolutely gorgeous, haunting bolero take of the Sidney Bechet-penned title track. Perrier’s going to cheer up a lot of people in her “deux amours,” on both sides of the pond, with this one.

Klezmer-Ish Put a Playful, Eclectic Spin on Gorgeous Old Jewish Melodies

There are plenty of bands who put a darkly improvisational spin on old Jewish folk songs, but Klezmer-ish are different. Take the version of the popular Klezmer Freilach, which opens their new album Dusty Road, streaming at Spotify. There isn’t just romping clarinet – that’s Thomas Verity on bass clarinet. There’s also cello, and bouzouki, and hints of Romany jazz, and a nebulous, suspenseful interlude midway through. Among other klezmer groups, Mames Babegenush are the obvious comparison, but Klezmer-ish are more lavishly textured.

The group strut in unison through the album’s second number, Padelasol Fetalor: what a commitment to staccato. They build an elegant, moody web of counterpoint in Volver, Marcel Becker’s bass anchoring the clarinet, Rob Shepley’s  imploring violin and Concettina Del Vecchio’s accordion weaving a veil and then piercing it.

September Sun comes across as a more hi-de-ho take on Django Reinhardt, with a spare, jaunty bass-and-guitar conversation. Becker’s wistfully bowed bass solo opens Kicho, eventually pairing up with lush, majestic accordion. A broodingly crescendoing bass-carinet-and- bass duet opens another popular standard, Hershel, kicking off a catchy minor-key romp by the whole band and then a ridiculous cartoon-horse interlude.

Spare bass clarinet and guitar pair off in Amud Ha’Esch, then pensively sweeping strings take over. I’m Confessin’ isn’t a klezmer tune, but this slowly simmering swing arrangement fits the instrumentation well. Django Reinhardt’s  Blue Drag works even better in this context, Shepley firing off the album’s most lusciously spiky guitar solo.

With its steady, ambling groove and unexpectedly psychedelic guitar, Give Me a Lift to Tzfat is the most chromatically tasty track on the record. The group pair a searchingly clarinet-fueled doina with a similarly moody, bluesy sher and close with the title cut, underscoring the fact that they excel the most with instrumentals.

Elegant, Intricate, Individualistic Guitar Instrumentals From Duo Tandem

Duo Tandem play gorgeously interwoven, largely minor-key acoustic guitar music with elegant climbs, moving basslines, exchanges of roles and lead lines. Their new album Guitar Duos of Kemal Belevi is streaming at Spotify. Guitarist Necati Emirzade is typically in the right channel, his bandmate Mark Anderson in the left.

They open the record with the first of a handful of Cyprian Rhapsodie, a steady, brooding, briskly strolling minor-key blend of Romany jazz, the baroque and rembetiko. It’s essentially an overture to the triptych which follows. The first part is slower, with a spare Emirzade solo and a little more counteproint; the second is more sober and austere, with some magically nuanced echo phrases from Anderson over walking bass figures. The conclusion comes across as a sunny Mediterranean bouzouki tune with an unexpectedly moody bridge, the lead shifting from Emirzade’s precise walks and chords to Anderson’s bracing tremolo-picking.

The two slowly shift Valse No. 1 from melancholy to somewhat more animated terrain, with more of the album’s initial Greek Django atmosphere. The album’s sixth track, another rhapsody, has some coy call-and-response amid the Mediterranean baroque phrasing.

Valse No. 2 is more wistfully reflective, with lots of gentle twin lead lines. The three-part Turkish Suite begins with an enigmatic circular theme and variations, shifts to a slow, spacious, mutedly saturnine midsection and winds up with the album’s most intensely crescendoing, chromatically biting coda.

Romance has the most traditional baroque counterpoint on the record. The next rhapsody reprise makes a good segue, adding a little beachy Greek flavor to what otherwise could be Telemann or Handel. The album’s final suite, Three Fragments begins with could be a Django Reinhardt reinvention of Duke Ellington’s Caravan, continues with echoes of Debussy and Satie and concludes with surreal baroque Romany swing.

Likewise, the album’s epic closing number shifts from brooding chromatics to Bach-like interplay. This is a richly melodic showcase for Belevi’s distinctive, elegant compositions, which deserve the inspired interpretations they get from Emirzade and Anderson.