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Concert Review 2011.05.26 Bloomsbury (London, UK)

Django à la Créole
at the Bloomsbury Theatre

Clive Davis for The Times

(...chamber jazz at its most nuanced, ...simply spellbinding.)

 

 


A few weeks ago Hugh Laurie gave us a genial guided tour of New Orleans in his latest incarnation as a blues musician. Doctor House meets Professor Longhair. Evan Christopher's approach to the Crescent City's heritage is even more inspired. A youngish clarinettist from California, he made his home in the cradle of jazz and, when Hurricane Katrina forced him to pack his bags, headed for Paris, where he channelled his talents into a magical quartet, Django à la Créole.

The band's most recent disc, Finesse, was my favourite album of last year, and this concert - a display of chamber jazz at its most nuanced - more than lived up to expectations. If the audience was modest, the performance was simply spellbinding.

When Woody Allen brings his New Orleans group to town, the power of celebrity means that he can sell out Hammersmith Apollo, which is no bad thing, of course. But while Allen never pretends to be more than an amateur enthusiast, Christopher is a hugely gifted player who wears his learning incredibly lightly. Nor is this an exercise in nostalgia. An unorthodox line-up, with David Blenkhorn's deft electric guitar balanced by Dave Kelbie's acoustic rhythm guitar and Sébastien Girardot's double bass, gives the repertoire immense suppleness.

When the quartet swooped into Songe d'Automne, for example, Kelbie generated an infectious samba beat before Christopher dismantled his own instrument in order to add exotic, cuíca-like sounds on his mouthpiece.
The combination of Django-esque swing and a generous helping of Jelly Roll Morton's "Spanish tinge" would have been a revelation to anyone who still associates New Orleans jazz with the chug-chug-chug of the banjo.

In this largely unamplified concert, Christopher was capable of effortless shifts in dynamics, leaping from flourishes worthy of Sidney Bechet at his most imperious to the lightest of whispers. Tropical Moon added a touch of Haitian rumba, while the sensuous Mama Nita rolled its hips with pure abandon. They're at the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival in July. Don't miss it.

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