The reverence gypsy jazz musicians all feel for Django Reinhardt, the inventor and perfecter of the idiom, makes them step cautiously into innovation, and that has served the culture well...and the Hot Club of San Francisco has always had the tightest grip on what the authentic guts of the sound require. As the pre-eminent American gypsy jazz ensemble, HCSF triumphs with Yerba Buena Bounce, preserving that 1930's sound while propelling gypsy jazz well into the 21st century.
On their 2005 release, Postcards from Gypsyland, the HCSF set new, high standards for themselves or anyone wishing to enter the game: in recording quality, professionalism, and fidelity to the gypsy jazz idiom, most curious because the geologic pace of its evolution that never seems to detract from its endless energy. If Postcards set out to impress, Yerba Buena Bounce finds the group even more comfortable in their musical skins; it's more a session where they found great material and arrangements and decided to just have some fun, play great. The result is music that impresses even more.
Paul "Pazzo" Mehling, the founder and leader, sticks to what has always worked well before, and concentrated on doing it better than he ever has: four Django tunes, and classics from Bechet, Carmichael, Lester Young, Lennon/McCartney, and as always, some sparkling originals. Reinhardt's Mystery Pacific, the opener, draws you into the fun and magical space of gypsy jazz freedom, impeccably recorded, authentically reproduced. On the Beatle's I'm Happy Just To Dance With You (yes, the only Lennon/McCartney tune sung by George!), the melody is re-phrased to fit the Hot Club's mien, but HCSF enhances and deepens the original sentiment, treating it not just as a melody, but capturing the whole romance of the early Beatles, and breathing new life into an old tune that makes this more than a reminiscence. Sway is one of two tunes that feature David Grisman on mandolin, and Pazzo's solo has an exceptional quote from Suicide is Painless, that is simultaneously hilarious and sublime. Grisman returns, along with Seth Asarno on bandoneon for Pazzo's 'Lullabye,' to which they both bring a delicate, tender touch.
Of course, the whole band swings from head to toe, but shout outs must go to Evan `Zeppo' Price, whose violin playing consistently takes tuneful flight, yet is always locked in to the the ensemble rhythm...this is great jazz playing. On Tickle Toe, his playing and the SOUND evoke the great Duke Ellington Jazz Violin Session with Ray Nance, Svend Asmussen, and Stephane Grappelli . Reinhardt/Grappelli's 'Black and White' features the quintessential Pazzo solo, where one of Reinhardt's arpeggio techniques, usually used for a three or four bar flourish, is taken to delightful extremes for what seems like an entire chorus.
And the recording: the combination of Reference Recordings persnickety microphone technique and the underground chambers of the Fantasy recording studios in Berkeley worked like a charm. While audiophile recordings will often obsess on brilliance and clarity to the point of sterility, the recording on this album is transcendently natural. The instruments sound, not crystalline and clean, but like MUSIC, with all the warmth left in and nothing in between. The naturalness of the sound occupies that sublime and elusive middle ground between the technical advantages of a studio and the warmth of a live recording.
There's plenty more to enjoy here, from the heebie jeebies of 'Rhythme Futur,' the jamming of 'Borneo,' Pazzo's gorgeous reading of Django's 'Improvisation #2' that closes the set, and an absolutely amazing bonus cut, Paulo Conte's 'Gong Oh,' that will have you reaching for your absinthe and cigar, bumping up with the great gypsy culture that has blessed us with a unique jazz form that only grows more enduring and more exciting, due in no small part to the raucous, sweet-tight sounds of the Hot Club of San Francisco.