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10/27/12

Live at Yoshi's San Francisco
The Hot Club of San Francisco
Azica Records
Pearl Django
Eleven
Modern Hot Records

When you’ve been celebrating the legacy of the Quintette du Hot Club de France for as long as these West Coast ensembles have, and as successfully, the question invariably becomes, what’s next? As you might expect, recruiting guitarist Martin Taylor as a guest artist pays off handsomely for Pearl Django.

On Eleven, the quintet’s eleventh album, the British virtuoso turns up on three tracks, including two of his own compositions: “Rue de Dinan,” a delightfully evocative reminder of his love for Brittany; and “Serafina,” a minor-key ballad that’s as soulful as it is lyrical. Finally, Taylor appears on the Count Basie/Harry Edison tune “Jive at Five,” a fiddle-laced slice of Southwest swing that prominently features the guitarist in lighthearted tandem with violinist Michael Gray. Likewise, two additional jazz standards, Duke Pearson’s “Jeannine” and Thelonious Monk’s “Pannonica,” receive fresh interpretations from the quintet. The former finds Gray and accordionist David Lange trading off the melody over block chords before the interplay becomes more complex and colorful. The Monk ballad, on the other hand, inspires an elegant, spacious and ultimately haunting performance. Each member of the ensemble—Gray, Lange, bassist Rick Leppanen and guitarists Troy Chapman and Ryan Hoffman—contribute pieces to Eleven. Choosing favorites may depend on the tempos you prefer, but suffice it to say that some of the tune titles—“Prozac Musette,” “Rumbatism” and others—seem particularly apt, pointing to the wit, charm, swing and lyricism that awaits Pearl Django devotees and newcomers alike. Small wonder that Taylor was happy to oblige.

Enter Cole Porter. When singer and Porter-phile Isabelle Fontaine joined the San Francisco Hot Club in 2009, recording Porter songs was one of her top priorities. On Live at Yoshi’s San Francisco, she whittles her wish list to three Porter classics: a swinging, swiftly accelerating “It’s Alright With Me”; a similarly engaging “Just One Of Those Things”; and, perhaps inevitably, a version of “I Love Paris” that elegantly aligns the spirits of Porter, Reinhardt and Grappelli. Fontaine isn’t a powerhouse singer, but she has a lovely, affecting voice and charm to spare. Her taste and versatility, as the set list for this engagement at Yoshi’s affirms, are a big plus, too. Included are colorfully contrasting tributes to Billie Holiday (“What a Little Moonlight Can Do”), Anita O’Day (“Stella by Starlight’’) and Edith Piaf (“Milord”). The Piaf salute, incidentally, features tuba player Sam Rocha, a member of the band’s extended family, and incorporates some festive French Quarter-inspired polyphony.

The ensemble’s stellar musicianship, of course, is a given these days, but this concert setting underscores the ease with which the quartet’s members create crisp, imaginatively woven arrangements. Guitarist Paul Mehling, violinist/mandolinist Evan Price, bassist/trombonist/trumpeter Clint Baker and rhythm guitarist/dobroist Jeff Magidson are clearly attuned to Fontaine’s choices and gifts. Not surprisingly, though, many of the album’s rewards are purely instrumental, thanks in part to such vintage treats as “Songe d’Automne” and Reinhardt’s “Dinette.”

Originally published in October 2012
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