Primary Instrument: Band/orchestra
Back in 1930s Paris, the Hot Club de France kept music fans jumping and dance floors filled to their intricate and lively brand of gypsy jazz.
In 21st century Detroit, the fans are jumpin' and the dance floors are filled, too-- this time to the sound of the Hot Club of Detroit, an electrifying and visionary ensemble that takes the traditions pioneered by Django Reinhardt and company and spins them in a way that's both reverent and refreshingly contemporary.
As guitarist and group leader Evan Perri explains, We want to spread the music and keep the gypsy spirit alive. But we're from Detroit. We're not gypsies in a caravan in France. Our influences come from stuff we grew up listening to here in Detroit. We're not trying to live in the shadow of the Rosenberg Trio or Birelli LeGrane. We just want to make music that's true to the spirit of Django but that's also true to ourselves.
The first recorded document of that philosophy is Hot Club of Detroit, a 13-song collection recorded in just three days and brimming with the energy and focus of a band honed to truly hot form thanks to a full schedule of live shows and to the fiery chops of the six musicians who play on the disc. The repertoire is also a testament to their breadth and stylistic facility. The album certainly has its share of Reinhardt favorites Nuages, Belleville, Stompin' at Decca, Anouman--but it also includes selections by Fapy Lafertin (Aurore), Wes Montgomery (Leila), Antonio Carlos Jobim (How Insensitive) and Fats Waller (Honeysuckle Rose), as well as two Perri originals--Swing One and a variation on the theme from The Godfather.
I wanted to make an album that was as diverse as possible but still in the Django style, Perri says. I chose some tunes that were outside of our book, some tunes we had never played before, just to create that interesting album from beginning to end. I didn't want someone to get halfway through the album and be bored.
Hot Club has been playing since 2003 but Perri, of course, has been at it longer. The son of a jazz guitarist, he played bass as a youth growing up in the Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe before picking up guitar when he was 18 and soaking up influences such as Jerry Garcia, John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra and the improvisation-oriented rock band Phish. After high school Perri worked his way through five different colleges before landing back home at Wayne State University's music program, but it was earlier, at Minneapolis' Musictech College, that Perri was introduced to Reinhardt and gypsy jazz.
It was something I've never done before, Perri says of Reinhardt's complex style, all the more remarkable because a 1928 accident had left him with just three functioning fingers on his left hand. It was such a challenge it drew me to it. It was harder than anything I've ever studied. Gypsy jazz is the hardest music I ever tried to play. I think people stayed away because it was so difficult to understand, but that's what drew me to it, having a good challenge like that.
Returning to Detroit, Perri was sworn to start his own gypsy jazz group to continue his studies and exploration in that area. I rounded up the best guys I could at Wayne State, he recalls, and taught them to play this music. We used to have sessions twice a week where I'd teach them to play proper gypsy rhythms and how to approach this music. It was so new to everybody, and everybody just loved it. Nobody ever heard it before; they thought it was some new style of music and didn't realize it was older than their parents.
Playing live at various clubs and festivals, and holding its own Djangofest celebration each year, the Hot Club has gone through several personnel changes and lineups leading up to the troupe that recorded Hot Club of Detroit--Perri, longtime accordionist Julien Labro (who really IS from France), bassist Shannon Wade, clarinetist Dave Bennett and rhythm guitarists Paul Brady and Colton Weatherston. The owners of Detroit's famed White Room studio re-tooled it especially for the Hot Club's acoustic instrumentation, and Perri reports that it was basically just like a big jam session. We do have arrangements for our music, but a lot of what we do is still improvisational. When we'd do five takes of one tune, each one was good but different in its own way.
I feel like I do have a mission to get this music out there and get people to understand it and where it comes from and what it all means, Perri says. To me this is just as important as Charlie Christian and Eddie Lang and all those guys back in the day. Django was a pioneer, and to overlook that is wrong--not just to me, but to the history of jazz. I'm here to make sure that doesn't happen.
“Through these newer songs, the Hot Club of Detroit proves their mastery of Reinhardt's music, since they can not only play his songs so well; they know how to translate it to other styles. That adventurousness, combined with their considerable musicality, makes Hot Club of Detroit a first-rate debut album -- and after listening to it, it's hard not to want to hear how they go forward on their next album.” --All Music Guide
This is a recording that can be listened to and enjoyed over and over again-I certainly intend to do so! --Howard Alden
The Hot Club of Detroit plays with such reverence and passion. They play with a different level of conviction --James Carter
Thank you so much. The Hot Club of Detroit with Anat Cohen were an absolute hit at our festival. They were extremely entertaining and quite engaging. The fun they seemed to be having clearly translated to the audience. We'll be in touch about bringing them back for a return visit in the near future, and doubt that we'll have any complaints, due to their popular demand. --Tim Warfield