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Tag: Vinny Raniolo

Avalon Jazz Band Fuel the Revelry at Symphony Space

On one hand, it was mystifying to see a sold-out crowd sitting sedately through the first three songs of the Avalon Jazz Band’s sold-out show at Symphony Space Thursday night. On the other, it was validating to see the group earning appreciation as a first-class jazz act. Too few swing bands get props for their chops.

This show was the second in a weekly series here called Revelry. Musically speaking, it’s the most exciting thing to happen to the Upper West Side in a long, long time. There were never many venues in the neighborhood to begin with and there are even fewer now. So Symphony Space is really filling a need by booking all sorts of artists who’ve probably never played this far north.

This Thursday, Oct 25 at 8 PM the venue has Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, a polymath on oldtime blues guitar, banjo and piano who may be the single most talented musician in all of New York. Ticket buyers 30 and under get in for $20, which is ten bucks off the regular cover charge. The downstairs bar stays open during the show and afterward; last week, ushers were grinningly handing out wristbands which entitled concertgoers to 20% off at the bar. All this is a different kind of return to the venue’s glory days in the late zeros and earlier in this decade when they were booking a ton of global talent in addition to the usual classical and jazz acts.

Last week, it was a four-piece version of Avalon Jazz Band. They opened with a charming, chirpy, playfully conversational take of the old French standard Coquette, frontwoman Tatiana Eva-Marie shimmying and teasing cartoonish riffs – and an irresistibly droll bass solo – from her bandmates. By the night’s third number, people of all ages were beginning to leave their seats and heading down in front of the stage to cut a rug. The snazziest dance moves of the night came from a couple who looked to be in their seventies, clearly old pros at swing dancing.

After starting in Paris, the singer led her quartet to Romany territory – Tatiana is half French and half Romanian – then to New Orleans and finally brought the music full circle. Guitarist Vinny Raniolo aired out his vast bag of riffs, from punchy Django Reinhardt swing, to warily resonant Chicago blues, fleet postbop and some eerie, tremoloing Lynchian resonance capped off with tremolo-picking that was sometimes fluttery and sometimes an icepick attack.

Violinist Gabe Terracciano showed off similar chops, from jaunty Bob Wills-style western swing, to airy Stephane Grappelli-esque phrasing, lots of sabretoothed Romany riffs and stark blues as well. Bassist Wallace Stelzer was amped pleasantly high in the mix, serving as the band’s Secretary of Entertainment with his wry sense of humor, the occasional tongue-in-cheek quote and solos that echoed the guitar.

The songs in the set were just as diverse. They’d played this year’s New Orleans Jazz Festival, so that was still on their minds. The highlight of the set was a brooding, saturnine take of Hoagy Carmichael’s New Orleans, with new English lyrics by a Crescent City friend of Tatiana’s. Her original, There’s Always a Moon Over New Orleans made a brisk contrast, inspired by the fact that when the band were down there, they never got up until after the sun went down. They mined the repertoire of Charles Trenet and Charles Aznavour for wistfulness, then went scampering up Menilmontant toward the end of the set. Afterward the crowd filed out to the bar, just as Tatiana – who by the end of the set had drained most of a sizeable glass of whiskey – had been encouraging all night. 

Irrepressibly Fun Cosmopolitan Swing from the Avalon Jazz Band

The Avalon Jazz Band’s new album Je Suis Swing – streaming at their music page – was made for swing dancing, first and foremost. It’s irresistibly charming, and cheery, and fun. The Franco-New York group mine a century’s worth of bouncy continental jazz sounds, from Romany guitar shuffles, to Belgian musette and classic chanson. The group’s musicianship is first-rate and fast; even if they didn’t have the winsome presence of singer Tatiana Eve-Marie out in front of the band, they’d still be a lot of fun to listen to. They’re playing this Feb 15 at 8 PM at Guadalupe Inn at the corner of Knickerbocker and Johnson Aves. in Bushwick; cover is $8. Take the L to Morgan Ave.

The album kicks off with the Djangoesque shuffle Menilmontant, Tatiana channeling the song’s wistfulness in a delivery that’s airy and sunny but just as crisp. Guitarist Olli Soikkeli’s spiraling, spiky Romany leads fly above the muted chords of fellow six-stringer Vinny Raniolo, augmented by violinist Adrien Chevalier and accordionist Albert Behar while bassist Brandi Disterheft supplies the groove.

Coquette gives clarinetist Evan Arntzen a chance to for some droll tradeoffs with Chevalier; Tatiana sings in English. She switches back to French for the brisk title track and its period-perfect 1920s vernacular; after a jaunty Arntzen solo, one of the guys takes a turn on the mic for a verse in French, guessing that it’s Chevalier.

La Complainte de la Butte has a bittersweet, waltzling lilt fueled by Behar’s turbulent chords; Chevalier kicks in a dancing solo. Tatiana goes back to English for their version of the jazz standard I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, recast as Romany swing with a blithe alto sax solo followed by more fiery ones by Arntzen and Chevarlier. Stompin at Decca is a vehicle for precision and raw adrenaline alike from Soikkeli and Chevalier. Darling Je Vous Aime Beaucoup, with its droll code-switching, sounds like a more over-top take on something by Charles Trenet from the 40s. C’est Si Bon outdoes pretty much every other version in the chipperness department; the waltzing instrumental Songe D’Automne makes a somber contrast until the band hits the turnaround and then swings the hell out of it.

Tatiana makes the labyrinthine volleys of lyrics to Le Soleil et la Lune sound easy as the band shifts between blithe and moody. They Djangify Sweet Sue, with some coy call-and-response between Tatiana and the band; their version of Rosetta a little later is much the same. Ironically, the album’s best song is the matter-of-fact, melancholy, pastorally-tinged Seule Ce Soir (Alone Tonight).

Their version of J’ai Ta Main (Holding Your Hand) is a study in dark/light contrasts.They reinvent Clair de Lune as a balmy but wary slowdance number with Arntzen’s nuanced clarinet balanced by Soikkeli’s highwire guitar work and Chevalier’s pensively soaring violin. The album winds up with Qu’est-ce Qu’on Attend (What Are We Waiting For?), a high-class party anthem. If you might be wondering how Avalon Jazz Band stuff a grand total of sixteen tracks onto the album, it’s because only a few of them top the three-minute mark. Quick, get back out there on the floor!

Svetlana and the Delancey Five Bring Their Poignant Cosmopolitan Swing to the Blue Note Jazz Festival

Among New York swing jazz bandleaders, singer Svetlana Shmulyian either has the best taste in supporting musicians, or has finagled her way to the best access to them. Maybe both. She distinguishes herself as an original songwriter, and she sings in character, bringing new life to old standards as well as her own dynamic, poignant originals. She and her band the Delancey Five are one of the highlights of this year’s Blue Note Jazz Festival coming up on June 24, with two sets at 7:30 and 9:30 PM at Lucille’s, adjacent to B.B. King’s on 42nd St. Advance tix are $20.

Her debut album, Night at the Speakeasy – inspired by her long weekly residency at Norfolk Street hideaway the Back Room – is streaming at Bandcamp. With a grand total of fourteen tracks, Shmulyian offers a lot of bang for the buck. And where others might have taken the safe route and opened with a standard, she kicks it off with a swinging, subtle midtempo original, All I Want, contemplating the hope for a summer solstice “in this winter city of my dreams” in a sunny soprano, shaping the blue notes with a coy bittersweetness.

Onstage, she draws from a semi-rotating cast of talent; the band here is killer, with Wycliffe Gordon on trombone (and some arrangements as well); Adrian Cunningham on saxes and clarinet; Charlie Caranicas on trumpet; Dalton Ridenhour on piano; Vinny Raniolo on guitar; George Delancey on bass; and the fantastic Rob Garcia (whose latest album is one of the year’s most brilliant jazz releases) on drums.

Much as the standards – and not-so-standards – here are choice, it’s her own material that stands out the most. It’s All Good has Shmulyian’s signature, precise articulation – she turns off her phone just to keep things nonchalant with the guy, but then she soars up into a big angst-fueled chorus. The way the sax and Shmulyian’s upper register flights mingle and then hand off at the very end is artful, and awfully fun. The most retro number is Temptations, a co-write with bassist Brandi Disterheft, bringing to mind Blossom Dearie with its jaunty litany of images.

The bandleader duets with Gordon on a couple of Louis Armstrong/Ella Fitzgerald tunes. You Won’t Be Satisfiied finds each reveling in their roles as wounded ingenue and similarly bruised rake, while Under a Blanket of Blue pairs dixieland flourishes with a nocturnal suspense and a bitingly good Ridenhour solo. The dynamic between Gordon’s signature, irrepressible humor and Shmulyian’s poignancy is a recurrent theme throughout the record.

Ridenhour and Caranicas bring some tempting latin allusions to Ellington’s Just a Sittin’ and a-Rockin’. Another Ellington tune, Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me gives Ridenhour a lauching pad for some Otis Spann-class purist blues. Garcia pushes the band’s reinvention of the Beatles’ Because with a stark tango-infused pulse under Shmulyian’s surrealistically straightforward delivery. And his original, Dance In Between the Moments, is arguably the album’s strongest moment; a sardonic, vivid, indelibly New York salute to escapist behavior on the Lower East Side.

Lady Be Good showcases the band’s expertise in stirring up a crowd on the dancefloor, while Tea for Two goes in the other direction as a tasty guitar shuffle. Shmulyian and Cunningham duet on the album’s funniest number, Sometimes I’m Happy: intentional or not, there’s a whiff of Jamaican rocksteady here.

The album’s most exotic track is legendary Russian trumpeter Eddie Rosner’s You Are Like a Song, Shmulyian giving it a balmy, tender interpretation in the original vernacular. There’s also a Beach Boys cover: the whole band gamely puts everything they have into it, but god only knows the album wouldn’t suffer without it. As it is, Shmulyian and her crew have crafted one of the year’s most dynamically fun releases, rooted in the past but inescapably in the here and now.