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French Salon at Bard

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sun Feb 12th, 2017

From left: Gabe Schnider, Dan Chmielinski, Alphonso Horn, Patrick Bartley, Benjamin Sutin, and Candice Hoyes.

“Django Reinhardt & the French Salon” offered a septet of accomplished musicians performing at Bard’s LUMA Theater to a sold-out crowd appreciative of hot jazz. Some readers of The Millbrook Independent may now be experiencing déjà vu. No, I am not re-running an old article, but one year ago in February the Millbrook Library hosted a trio with the same program title. Instead of hundreds in the audience there were only about thirty. This was the first performance of the new trio and that performance garnered their first enthusiastic review which can be read here.

Candice Hoyes (depicted in teaser photo), who came out with an album of forgotten Duke Ellington songs (which won rave reviews and rose to the ten spot on US Jazz charts) last March, the month after that first performance, remains the headline singer. She sang with more self-confidence, nuance, and theatrical presence. What a difference a year can make in show business! Alphonso Horne on trumpet and guitarist Gabe Schnider, two Juilliard school mates, were at the core with four additional players from The Catskill Jazz Factory.

In Pre-WWII Paris Django Reinhardt, the first native European jazz artist of significance, Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli had the top nightclub band in Paris, the first all-string jazz band. A Roma gypsy violinist born in Brussels, Django took up the guitar after he lost the use of two fingers rescuing his violin from his burning caravan; he had his own take on jazz, producing, many notable arrangements. After the war, he continued his collaborations with jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli. Just before he died of a stroke at 43 (it took 24 hours for a doctor to show up), he briefly toured with Duke Ellington, so it was no surprise that the six musicians took up the tune "Duke and Dukie," in which the guitar (Reinhardt) vies with clarinet (Ellington), the guitar being more angular with dense unpredictable rhythm while the clarinet rides high and smooth with Ellingtonian elegance. Patrick Bartley on clarinet added much magic to the ensemble, not only in this piece, but throughout the concert.

Other concert highlights included “Honeysuckle Rose” with horn interlude (a first?), “Dark Eyes,” a successful Djangoesque version of Claude Debussy’s moody “Reverie,” two Stephen Foster numbers, and Candice Hoyes delivering an amusing Poulenc cabaret number and a knockout version of Cole Porter’s “Night and Day” with lyrics in both French and English (the French sounded more lyrical and sonorous). “Creole Love Call” from Candice Hoyes was even better than her album cut. (See the YouTube video below.)

There was a Django number in which pianist Chris Pattishall excelled fluidly on the ivories. Bassist Dan Chmielinski not only offered solid support, but tossed in some delightfully crazing bowing on bass. Benjamin Sutin on violin began slightly tentatively, yet when it came for solos late in the program his violin tone had that savvy Grappelli quality. Alphonso Horne on trumpet was the soul of the septet.

Gabe Schnider is certainly a guitar virtuoso, a wizard, yet I wished he had remained acoustic rather than electric, although it’s true that Reinhardt eventually turned electric late in his career of 36 albums. (I admit I’m old school—I don’t fancy electric in jazz.)

The program was a combination of popular and sophisticated music played with humor, intensity, and finesse.  The band was relaxed as players grooved with each other in amiable competition that never got out of hand (as sometimes happens in jazz). The audience would have loved to stay for another couple of hours, even if there was another snow storm in the works. There should be a successful American-Canadian tour in the works for this ensemble—let the continent in on this Hudson Valley secret….