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Les DeMerle: Gypsy Rendezvous, Vol. 1

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If you don’t take this initial volume of Gypsy jazz (a sequel implied?) too seriously, you can enjoy it as a relaxed, happy session of new and old friends: drummer/singer Les DeMerle and his wife, singer/ percussionist Bonnie Eisele, backed by the house band that plays every Monday night at Mulligan’s On the Blue, in Wailea, Maui. The combo, Gypsy Pacific, consists of violinist Willie Wainwright; guitarists Tom Conway and Phil Benoit; and bassist Marcus Johnson.

Their instrumentation says it all: Gypsy Pacific is styled after its musical icon, The Hot Club of France. Not surprising ly, among the 15 tracks, you will not hear one Hawaiian lick.

Engineer Jake Rohrer recorded the album in his studio-in-a-home, in nearby Haiku, and deserves much credit for keeping acoustic and domestic distractions under control. Control is also DeMerle’s strong suit. As Rohrer noted in his liner notes, DeMerle took command, benignly, of everything musical. His ideas proved ingenious, considering the forces at his disposal. The steady chomping of the guitars, reinforced by the bass, sustain the image of the Hot Club. Wainwright’s fluid, and occasionally lachrymose, fiddling brings Grappelly into sharp focus.

DeMerle’s arrangements preserve the familiar two-beat swing. Good examples abound: Sonny Rollins’ “Pent Up Home;” “St Louis Blues, replete with tango rhythm; and Django’s own “Heavy Artillery.” Eisele’s voice is problematic, due to a hard-to-control vibrato, but she compensates by sheer force of personality, a de vice used with equal success by DeMerle. Eisele’s best moments are heard on “Skylark;” “Let Me,” a fast bossa over pulsating brush work by DeMerle; and “Swingin’ Shepherd Blues,” particularly her flawless unison (with and without words) with guest soprano saxophonist, David Choy: his only contribution.

Also worthy of mention: “Hit That Jive Jack,” a well-rehea rsed set piece featuring Eisele and DeMerle on precisely phrased vocals. It’s campy, extremely retro, but it fits so well during a session in Paradise, especially its turnaround expression, “Ja-dee-ah-duh.” (Accented like that old refrain, “How’s Yer Mother.”)

Originally Published