Tuesday, April 27, 2010

THE NEXT LEVEL

Well guys you have done it again. How does it feel to have another stellar recording under your belt? Each album has been a stepping-stones it seems. The self-titled debut album "The Hot Club of Detroit" was the quintet's inauguration into the Detroit jazz community. "Night Time," the second offering, proved the quintet wasn't a one hit fluke, and if you all remained tight knit national acclaim was assured. The new project "It's About That Time" should achieve that end. The album is that good. It's more eclectic than the others are. It has material my Joe Zawinul and Charles Mingus but remains sincere to the Hot Club of Detroit’s gypsy jazz roots. To stray from the topic for a moment, from 2000 to 2005, Detroit jazz community experienced a rebirth of jazz bands. I saw a movement brewing in the late 90’s. Jazz historian Jim Gallert concurred, pointing out to me over lunch some years ago, there’re many mom-and-pop jazz bands performing around Detroit during the 40’s, 50's and 60's.

In the early 2000, local jazz bands sprung up all around Detroit. The bands had catchy names such as Bop Culture, Urban Transport, Gerard Gibbs and Organized Crime, organissimo and, of course, the Hot Club of Detroit. Each band was unique and reputable, but they were short-lived. There wasn't enough jazz clubs in Detroit to sustain the bands, so the band members chased more lucrative projects. For example, Trombonist Vincent Chandler, the co-founder of Urban Transport moved to New York. He's back in town now, and he sounds better than ever. (I’m still a little sore with Chandler for breaking up them ensemble.) Organist Gerard Gibbs, the founder of the trio Organized Crime received a regular paycheck touring with saxophonist James Carter, which was a smart career move. Gerard was able to display his considerable chops for a national and international audience. The co-founder of Bop Culture trumpeter Mark Byerly toured with pop icon Justin Timberlake. (Turning down the chance to tour with Timberlake and make a pile of cash would've been foolish.) The gig was lucrative. With some of his earnings, the trumpeter built a home studio. The bands, during their heyday, made some wonderful albums, which I consider documented proof the bands existed. Right now, the Hot Club of Detroit and organissimo are still together and working regularly

Forgive me for digressing. I'm supposed to be commenting on "It's About That Time". So far, it's the Hot Club’s best outing. I liked every inch of it, especially the Charles Mingus swinger “Nostalgia in Times Square". Guys, it was a bold move, tackling bassist Charles Mingus' tune. Mingus material could tricky. The clap-along accompaniment midway through it, gave the song the feel of Mingus' opus "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting". I tip my hat to the member who was courageous to mix gypsy jazz with gospel rhythms. I bet the departed bassist would've loved how you all revamped his composition.

You all aren’t reluctant to take risks. Some members are bandleaders and have other musical interest outside the band. The saxophone player, and my favorite Hot Club member, Carl Cafagna, supervise his own band North Star Jazz, and he sings in the vocal group Metro Voices. I met Cafagna last month at the Cadieux Cafe on Detroit’s Eastside. He was playing the baritone sax in the Scott Gwinnell dectet. After the second set, we chatted. I complemented his phrasing on the baritone, saying it was similar to how sweetly Pepper Adams sounded. To my surprise, Cafagna said he dislikes playing that instrument. We also talked about family and his involvement with the vocal jazz outfit Metro Voices. I wanted to tell him I enjoy his playing more than I do his singing, but I didn’t have the heart to.

Two weeks later, I met another member of the Hot Club member rhythm guitarist Paul Brady at Anat Cohen concert at jazz concert promoter Andrew Rothman’s home. Brady had been into New York working toward a master degree. He had an independent study project with New York Times jazz critic Ben Ratliff. Brady shared a funny story about Ratliff, which I won't repeat because I believe the critic confided in guitarist. He shared the story after he consumed several glasses of red wine. I blushed when Brady told me he enjoyed reading the articles I've written for the Metrotimes, a weekly newspaper in Detroit. I told him I had recently received an advance copy of "It's About That Time" and his solos on "Restless Twilights" and "Duke and Dukie" were arresting.

Combining the late jazz keyboardist Joe Zawinul's ditty "It’s About That Time" with Django Reinhardt's "Heavy Artilleries" was risky undertaking, but the Hot Club pulled it off. It's a sign of just how savvy the quintet is. Headstrong members occupying the same space could be hazardous, but you all have a real democracy going. Maybe that's part of the band’s appeal. When I listened to "It's About That Time", I sensed when guitarist Evan Perri formed the band everybody locked up their egos. Perpetuating the Gypsy jazz tradition was serious business. This album may get them some much deserved national attention.
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