Drumless as ever and ever more eclectic, the Hot Club of Detroit chooses freshness over predictability on its fourth album. Sparked by the slight yet compelling vocals of French thrush Cyrille Aimée, the tough pop sensibility of new saxophonist Jon Irabagon and Andrew Kratzat’s replacement, Shawn Conley, on bass, Junction is far more diverse than its predecessors. What ties it together is its spirit, exemplified in the driving title track by accordionist Julien Labro and guitarist Evan Perri.
The virtuosity is a given, as is the group’s fealty to its inspiration, Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. Hot Club really stretches here, incorporating the freewheeling abrasiveness of John Zorn on “Chutzpah,” the jam-band sprawl of Phish on Trey Anastasio’s “Rift,” and Ornette Coleman at his sultriest: Aimée’s sensual rendition of “Lonely Woman” gives smoldering body and form to Coleman’s minimalist original. Elasticity is key. For example, try Labro’s “Hey!,” its top layer a nervy duet between saxophonists Irabagon and Andrew Bishop, its bottom always threatening to fall away. In the end, however, it’s atmospheric and exciting.
At times, the album teeters close to disintegration; following “Hey!” with the squalling, joyous “Chutzpah” is brave of the group and demanding of the listener. The experimentalism that courses through this daring disc suggests a new confidence in the group. Not that it’s lost sight of its sources. “Messe Gitane” is Labro’s sanctified arrangement of an obscure tune Reinhardt recorded on organ. It’s a gorgeous, solemn piece that brings the album back to earth after “Chutzpah.” Cementing the Reinhardt reference: “Django Mort,” a French blues with lyrics by Jean Cocteau, reverential accordion from Labro, deferential Irabagon sax, the scatting Aimée at her most thoughtful and Perri playing guitar in the style of the master.