The Hot Club of San Francisco
8:30 p.m. Aug. 12 at MoonDance at Midnight Pass amphitheater in Beaumont Circle. $25, $20 students, free for ages 12 and younger. (859) 225-0370. Lexarts.org.
It seems that nearly every major metropolis these days has a hot club — Detroit; Austin, Texas; and, for more than 20 years, San Francisco.
By a hot club, we mean a small ensemble devoted to the Gypsy jazz music pioneered in the 1930s by guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli in the Hot Club of France.
All of these ensembles absorb and assimilate some of the geographical inspirations at their disposal. For example, Austin's Hot Club of Cowtown incorporates the decidedly non-Gypsy influence of Western swing pioneer Bob Wills into its music.
In the case of Hot Club of San Francisco, which makes its Lexington debut Friday night with a performance at MoonDance at Midnight Pass amphitheater, some of the indigenous references include the champion West Coast hippie jazz and blues troupe Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks, and the subtle ways that violin is employed to propel its more wistful tunes.
On the Hot Club of San Francisco's wonderful 2008 album Bohemian Maestro, the ensemble — guitarists Paul Mehling and Isabelle Fontaine, violinist Evan Price and bassist Clint Baker — leaps head-first into Reinhardt's giddy Vendredi 13 with a robust Gypsy flourish, augmented by pianist Jeffrey Kahane. It also echoes Reinhardt's light, bright but mischievous lyricism on the Price original Le Jongleur.
But the recording also expands nicely on the more familiar side of its Gypsy sound by taking on the merry Crescent City stride of Jelly Roll Morton's The Pearls, the gentle Brazilian sway of Heitor Villa-Lobos' Chôro — although the record doesn't specify which of Villa-Lobos' many chôros is tackled here — and even arrangements of two comparative Reinhardt obscurities — the introduction to the chamber-style Messe, with help from Aeros Quintet, and the modestly rugged Boléro.
Capping the album's artfully impressionistic touch is the richly atmospheric Waltz for M.C. Escher, a Price original colored by the wistful strains of musical saw, and the Debussy favorite Clair de Lune, trimmed to a violin/guitar duet setting for Price and Mehling, although the latter sounds less like Reinhardt and more like jazz guitar great Joe Pass on his underappreciated solo recordings from the early '70s.
Fancy a little touch of Gypsy swing during the waning nights of summer? Fancy an ensemble schooled enough in that music's compositional depth to occasionally step outside its stylistic parameters? Then have we got a Hot Club for you.
Thursday is Forever
Turns out Forever isn't an eternity after all. After reuniting for a summer tour in 2008, the groundbreaking jazz fusion group Return to Forever is back for another round with a new quintet lineup. Al DiMeola is out, but guitarist Frank Gambale and violinist Jean-Luc Ponty will join RTF mainstays Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Lenny White. The new lineup, dubbed "Return to Forever IV," teams with Zappa Plays Zappa, the Frank Zappa tribute ensemble led by son Dweezil Zappa, for a concert at Riverbend Music Center's PNC Pavilion in Cincinnati on Thursday. (8 p.m. $34-$71.50. Ticketmaster.) This will be the closest that an RTF version featuring Corea, Clarke and White has played to Lexington since a November 1975 show at Memorial Coliseum. Drummer White discusses current RTF doings from Marseilles, France, in Sunday's Life + Arts section.