HOT CLUB OF DETROIT
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Following up It's About That Time, Night Town and the eponymous 2006
debut Hot Club of Detroit - Hot Club of Detroit expands its sonic and
compositional horizons with Junction. Retaining its original lineup of
reeds, two guitars, accordion, upright bass and no drums, this is the
band's fourth release for Mack Avenue Records. There are personnel
changes, however, and for the first time, the Hot Club of Detroit is
joined (on three tracks) by a vocalist: French musician Cyrille Aimee, a
native of Django Reinhardt's hometown and third-place winner of the 2010
Thelonious Monk International Vocal Competition.
Junction's sound is at once vintage and boldly new, rooted in the legacy
of Django Reinhardt but also the sensibilities of Ornette Coleman, Pat
Metheny, John Zorn and even the rock band Phish. Far from a traditional
gypsy jazz ensemble, Hot Club of Detroit (HCOD) proves itself a
versatile modern jazz group, with a unique acoustic-electric sound that
surges past expectations and genre boundaries.
"A lot of bands that model themselves after the Hot Club of France are
now working with drummers, or percussion of some sort," says HCOD rhythm
guitarist Paul Brady. "We never have. And by doing that it forces us to
think creatively about what we can do without it. How can we approach
odd meter, how can we approach certain grooves? Regardless of what a
drummer can add, that absence to me is interesting and different."
Unfortunately, Junction comes at a difficult time. HCOD bassist Andrew
Kratzat and his fianc�e were both seriously injured in an auto accident
in July 2011, and are currently on a long road to recovery. "This album
is a dedication to both of them," declares Brady. "It's been tough for
us, musically but also emotionally," adds HCOD accordionist Julien Labro.
"Andrew is like a brother, a family member. But we're still hopeful, and
one day I'm sure he'll be back to playing."
Honoring Kratzat's example, bassist Shawn Conley brings stellar
musicianship to Junction. Another new face is saxophonist Jon Irabagon,
winner of the 2008 Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition
and member of the acclaimed punk-jazz quartet Mostly Other People Do the
Killing. Andrew Bishop, also on reeds, makes appearances on three
tracks, increasing the band's power and timbral variation. (Family
obligations required Carl Cafagna, the group's original saxophonist, to
Irabagon is assertive from the start, contributing his own "Goodbye Mr.
Anderson" as the album opener. (The title comes from The Matrix, the
chords to an extent from Bobby Hebb's "Sunny" and John Coltrane.) The
writing partnership of Labro and lead guitarist Evan Perri is also
central to the album's sound. From their rich creative exchange comes
the flowing soprano sax/accordina melody of "Song For Gabriel" (named
for pop legend Peter Gabriel); the Pat Metheny-esque 6/8 time of
"Junction"; and the French-style waltz "Midnight in Detroit" (a parallel
to Stephane Wrembel's "Midnight in Paris," used in the Woody Allen
film). "The openings of 'Song For Gabriel,' and 'Junction' are very
idiomatic to the guitar, which makes them feel like pop tunes to me,"
Perri and Labro also co-arranged "Rift," by Phish's Trey Anastasio, to
close the album, adding a foundation of brisk la pompe rhythm guitar,
even a hint of Western swing, to a 1993 rock song of fairly epic (and
very electric) proportions, though without abandoning the tune's
structure. "I considered it sacrilegious, and refused to shorten the
original form of 'Rift' during rehearsals!" Perri laughs.
Labro's pieces make clear his rigorous attention to craft and his
wide-ranging influences. "The thing with 'Hey!'" he explains, "is that
it was not supposed to be two tenors at first. When we knew Andrew was
able to participate, I started thinking I could hear a dialogue and
absolutely wanted to include his voice." John Zorn is the inspiration
behind "Chutzpah," with a blasting free-form intro that gives way to
precise ensemble passages and a riot of changing tempos and feels. The
darker and calmer "Goodbye Mr. Shearing" honors the late piano master
George Shearing, who in fact started out on accordion. "There are just a
few recordings where he plays accordion and his language was great, so
ahead of its time for the instrument."
Another Labro composition, "Django Mort," was inspired by a Jean Cocteau
poem that was read at Reinhardt's funeral. Aimee sings the French text
as the band plays in a laid-back shuffle feel with a romantic flair. "I
tried to imagine when those words were first recited, perhaps with an
organ playing in the background," Labro says. "So the accordion starts
by itself, and the counterpoint is very Baroque. I also thought about
Django being a jazz musician, and why not have a procession like they do
in New Orleans. So I opened that up into a bluesy vibe, thinking about
guitarists like Howlin' Wolf."
Just before "Django Mort" is Labro's arrangement of an unfinished Django
Reinhardt mass, "Messe Gitane." While researching Django's death, Labro
came upon the only recording of this remarkable work-in-progress, a
roughly 10-minute fragment for solo organ. "Django never orchestrated
any of it," Labro reports, "but you can tell that something bigger was
supposed to arrive." Irabagon and Bishop both play clarinet on the
piece, enhancing its chamber-like beauty.
Aimee also offers "a nice bit of vocal athleticism," in Brady's words,
on the Angel Cabral tune "La Foule" ("the crowd"), a Parisian standard
associated with Edith Piaf. "The lyrics are about two people who meet in
a crowd and they dance," Brady offers, "and the party gets more and more
crowded and they lose each other." Labro resets the popular waltz in a
tricky but natural-sounding mixed meter. "The song is actually Peruvian
in origin," he says, "so I wanted to bring that Latin back in. It was
already in Cyrille's repertoire, but to sing it that fast with the
different meters was a challenge, and she hung in there. She's really
willing to take risks."
No less challenging was Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman," also arranged
by Labro, featuring Irabagon on alto saxophone and Aimee singing a lyric
written by Margo Guryan. Labro explains: "In the original, the time and
the harmony are there but they're so loose. We needed to find a way to
capture what the words are about, without destroying what Ornette
Labro and Brady share composer credit on "Puck Bunny," which is slang
for a female hockey fan. "A critic once called us 'puckish'," Brady
explains, "so I was originally going to call this 'Puck,' as in the
Shakespeare character." Brady also cites the free-spirited influences of
Mostly Other People Do the Killing as well as Jason Moran's Bandwagon.
Labro scored the piece for bass clarinet (Bishop) and sopranino
saxophone (Irabagon), creating the widest possible sonic range. "What's
great about having Jon and Andrew together," Labro says, "is that they
can play so many woodwinds, so it gives you a lot to work with. You can
mix and match and get totally different sounds."
Different sounds coming together, band members collaborating from
different cities: all of this makes Junction the perfect album title.
"It's a nice mix of pop-oriented material and also rather avant-garde
stuff," Brady concludes. "I remember an interview with Marc Ribot, my
favorite guitarist in the world, talking about how avant-garde and pop
have a lot of crossover, and even some of the musicians are the same
people, like Marc himself. It made total sense to me, and it came into
my mind while preparing this record." Perri concurs: "We've always
believed that if Django Reinhardt were alive today, he wouldn't play the
same way he always did. In his short lifespan you can see how much
evolution and vision he had. To pay tribute to him is to continue
pursuing our own ideas."
For media information, please contact Don Lucoff at DL Media
Hot Club of Detroit - Junction (MAC 1067)
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