Hold on to your berets. The Hot Club of Detroit is back in town.
The Hot Club of Detroit started as homage to the Django Reinhardt-Stephane Grappelli Hot Club of France, a legendary group that performed in the '30s and '40s, but it’s gone far beyond that. Now that it’s become one of Detroit’s favorite musical exports, the HCofD has incorporated more modern strains, all the while preserving the furious swing and unbridled romanticism at the heart of its dynamic acoustic offerings. This year is the 100th anniversary of Reinhardt’s birth.
The band will come to Nighttown tonight, June 11, about three months after its last visit to the Cleveland Heights nightspot. Where it spotlighted the Reinhardt-Grappelli (Reinhardt played guitar; Grappelli, violin) repertoire in its annual Djangofest last time around, it also featured guest guitarist Howard Alden and guest clarinetist Anat Cohen. This time, it will showcase tunes from It’s About That Time, its third album on Mack Avenue, the Detroit-based label that’s also home to Cleveland Jazz Orchestra artistic director Sean Jones.
“If you look at our previous records, most of the material is Reinhardt and Grappelli, but more and more we’re trying to merge our own experience and compositions into the mix to try to bring this music into the 21st century,” Julien Labro, the group’s accordion master, said in a recent telephone interview. “All of us contributed in some way or another to the shape of it musically. That’s why you’ll find some Mingus, some Chopin; the saxophone player (Carl Cafagna) wrote one original. We try to bring more and more of our thing into the genre, to try to bring audiences to different places.”
A native of Marseille, France’s second-largest city, Labro grew up listening to accordion music. He met Evan Perri, a blindingly fast guitarist and founder of the group, at Wayne State University in Detroit. The Hot Club of Detroit released its first album in 2006. It has been a quartet, a sextet and, for the past four years, a quintet. Paul Brady plays rhythm guitar, Andrew Kratzat upright bass. Hold the drums; the rhythm guitar does that job.
Why is Reinhardt’s chromatic style of gypsy jazz so popular? “It’s very accessible, it’s jazzy, it’s swing,” Labro said. “It’s got a lot of elements – bluegrass, folk – and it’s romantic. We bring a lot of people around to liking this music just because they may not have heard anything like it, though Django was doing it in the ‘30s and ’40s. It seems like gypsy jazz and the music of Django Reinhardt is becoming like a cult. Also, having two guitars and the driving force of the rhythm kind of pulsate the band.”
The album begins with Labro’s “On the Steps,” a multilayered musical pun incorporating elements of tunes by guitarist Pat Martino and saxophonist John Coltrane. Its title track merges Miles Davis’ “It’s About That Time” with Joe Zawinul’s “In a Silent Way.” It also features three other Labro tunes, two by Perri, two by Reinhardt, one by Lulu Reinhardt (an acoustic guitarist and distant relative of Django’s), a Chopin etude, and Charles Mingus’ “Nostalgia in Times Square.”
“I was in an airplane on my way to New York City and knew we had a session coming up,” recalled Labro. “We were trying to write an original like ‘On the Stairs,’ so I thought of ‘On the Steps.’ Then I thought there’s Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps,’ so I thought we could merge the two.”
Labro, who just earned a master’s degree in composition from Wayne State, wants to compose “all sorts of things. I grew up playing accordion transcriptions of classical music, but I fell in love with all different styles.
“It’s like cooking, with different influences from different genres. You just mix it all up. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”
LISTEN: Hot Club of Detroit - "On The Steps"
/media/Music/June/Hot Club of Detroit - On The Steps.mp3