Thursday, June 02, 2011

Evan Christopher's musical meeting of Django and Sidney Bechet

Evan Christopher has established himself as amongst the premiere clarinet players in jazz today. While associated with more traditional forms of jazz, Christopher has displayed a healthy catholicism in the range of music he plays whether traditional Sidney Bechet numbers or a medley of Ornette Coleman compositions. After Hurricane Katrina, he was briefly based in Paris at the invitation of the French government. Among his various groups is Django à la Créole, which is his effort to bridge the gypsy swing of the legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt and the New Orleans creole tradition. In 2008, they issued their original album Django à la Créole and in 2010 issued their second recording, Finesse (Frémeaux & Associés).

Django à la Créole is comprised of Christopher on clarinet, David Blenkhorn on lead guitar, Dave Kelbie on rhythm guitar and Sébatien Giradot on bass. As the drummer less instrumentation suggests, there is perhaps a bit more intimacy and chamber music quality to the performances similar to that of Reinhardt’s own recordings. While Reinhardt and Bechet lived in Paris for several years and likely their paths crossed, they never recorded, although Bechet recorded
Nuages. 12 days after the guitarist passed. A couple of Bechet compositions bookend the eleven performances here, starting with the West Indian flavored Tropical Moon, where Blenkhorn’s guitar weaves single notes and chords around Christopher’s entrancing clarinet lead as the other two deliver a swinging rhythm. The closing Passaporte Ao Paraiso (Passport to Paradise), which is treated as a Brazilian Choro, and again displays Christopher’s warm, woody tone.

The title track was by bassist Billy Taylor and was originally recorded in a trio with Duke Ellington and clarinetist Barney Bigard. Several months later, it was recorded in Europe by Reinhardt in the company of Taylor, Bigard and Ellington trumpeter, Rex Stewart. On this, Blenkhorn states the theme before Christopher enters with a slight touch of vibrato (perhaps a bit more Bechet style on this) followed by a lovely electric guitar solo. A brisk
Riverboat Shuffle features some delightful interplay between Blenkhorn and Christopher again, with Christopher’s clarinet evoking some of the charm and heat of Bix Beiderbecke’s cornet, with Blenkhorn particularly nice here.

Django à la Créole, is an original based on Reinhardt’s Improvisation #3 which Christopher says he arranged in the manner of the spanish tinge compositions of Jelly Roll Morton such as The Crave. The guitar accompaniment adds a flamenco accent to the performance. Solid Old Man is a charming performance of a Rex Stewart blues that was originally recorded at the same Paris session as Finesse, and displays Christopher’s warmth, tone and phrasing in his marvelous blues playing.

Evan Christopher at Louisiana Music Factory
Song d'Automne (Autumn Dream) by English composer Archibald Joyce is a waltz transformed into a lively samba and followed by Hoagy Charmichael’s Jubilee that Louis Armstrong introduced in a Mae West film. Armstrong was one of Reinhardt’s idols and in addition to Christopher’s thrilling playing, guitarist Blenkhorn interpolates quotes from Armstrong’s recordings of St. Louis Blues and the famous introduction of Mahogany Hall Stomp, in his delightful playing. Other strong performances include the delightful performance of Louis Moreau Gottschalk Creole Eyes, originally composed for solo piano, and the rendition here  highlights some of the Cuban influences in this 19th Century composition. Féerie is an usual hot tempo Reinhardt original with precise, warp speed playing followed by a lovely gypsy-creole distillation of the Ellington class Mood Indigo which Barney Bigard claimed he was authored the second theme with more lovely clarinet.

The originality and invention that Evan Christopher and his associates bring is thoroughly captivating. I had been waiting for several months for
Finesse to be available in the United States and the wait was well worth it. Highly recommended, this is available from and other sources.

This was a purchase.

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