Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Hot Club of Cowtown 29 September 2009 at Nighttown

It is great to see the survival and revival of Django Reinhardt style swing jazz in today’s roots music movement. At Nighttown alone over the last few months we have had both the Hot Club of Detroit and the Hot Club of San Francisco perform. Add to the list of “Hot Clubs” (named after Reinhardt’s “Quintette du Hot Club de France” or “Hot Club of Paris”) Texas’s the Hot Club of Cowtown, who doe a pretty good job of channeling Reinhardt’s musical via Bob Wills and other southwestern influences.
Last Tuesday night the Hot Club of Cowtown made their Cleveland debut at Nighttown before a close to capacity enthusiastic crowd. I caught their first set that evening, and it was enough music for a complete show, with sixteen selections that showed off all three members’ musical skills and vocals.
Although Django Reinhardt deserves his due as a guitarist, much of his music that has stood the test of time owes as much to violinist Stéphane Grappelli as it does to Reinhardt’s guitar work. The Hot Club of Cowtown revolves around their fiddler player Elana James, who also does her share of vocals and is the trio’s center of attention with her great smile and very good stage presence. Guitarist Whit Smith does a competent job, as does bassist Jake Erwin. But it is James who gives the trio its magic; she is a terrific musician and has more than her share of stage magnetism.
The song list included jazz and American standards, a few Reinhardt classics, some very good originals, and even a rousing version of “Ida Red,” which is almost mandatory for any swing band from Texas to play. Amongst the highlights was a beautiful version of “Georgia on My Mind” with James opening it up with a haunting fiddle solo and featuring Smith on some soulful vocals. Another standard that shined was “Cheek to Cheek.” The band did not do it in the style of either Peggy Lee or Frank Sinatra, two popular arrangements of the song, but went back to the Fred Astaire arrangement of the 1930’s. A little slower, a lot more romantic. My favorite original was “Eva’s Waltz,” which gave James some room to really show off her musicianship.
This was the trio’s first show at Nighttown, and hopefully not the last. For more about the Hot Club of Cowtown and their music visit hotclubofcowtown.musiccitynetworks.com/. As always, there are a lot of great shows coming up at Nighttown, for a full schedule go to www.nighttowncleveland.com. Shows coming up include local product Bobby Selvaggioand his All-Star Quartet
featuring Kenny Werner on piano on Sunday, Oct. 11; The Four Freshmen on
Tuesday, October 13; and Garrison Elliott and his Swing Band, a six piece group with two female vocalists, on Friday and Saturday, October 16 & 17.

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