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The Graham Weekly Album Review #1727

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Le Percolateur: Pop Manouche
by George Graham

(Chicago Sessions 0019 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 5/29/2013)

The influence of the Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt continues to be felt now sixty years after his death. The first jazz player to develop a distinctly European style, Reinhardt, his long-time collaborator violinist Stephane Grappelli, and their group the Quintet of the Hot Club of France made very swinging music without drums and used multiple acoustic guitars as the rhythm instruments. Reinhardt played the lead acoustic guitar, famously with only three fingers of his left hand after a childhood injury badly burned the other two.

Reinhardt died in 1953, during the period of ascendancy of bebop, so his style faded from the jazz world for a while, but in recent years has made a strong comeback. Numerous groups and artists have taken up the style, including the Hot Club of Detroit, Frank Vignola, and a group called Pearl Django. In the late 1970s, mandolinist David Grisman collaborated with violinist Grappelli, and using the instrumentation of bluegrass launched the whole New Acoustic movement which often borrowed from the swinging acoustic style of Reinhardt.

Now more recently, some pop groups are drawing on the influence, with the jazzy acoustic guitar and violin sound as an inspiration for some interesting hybrids. There was a group called the Lost Fingers, a reference to Reinhardt's famous disability, who did amusing versions of 1980s pop tunes, including techno and punk rock songs in the Django style.

This week, we have the debut album by a Chicago-based group called Le Percolateur, whose new CD is called Pop Manouche. Manouche being a slightly pejorative French word for Gypsy, or the Romani people. And Le Percolateur provides a logical musical combination which, oddly, has rarely been heard before, a Chanteuse style female vocalist with the Django-influenced group. The result is a lot of fun.

Le Percolateur was founded by three women, violinist Marielle de Rocca-Serra, bassist Stacy McMichael and vocalist Candace Washburn. According to their publicity bio, one night the three were playing in an old warehouse when a guitarist named Sam Random was drawn in by hearing the music, and he soon joined the group. With the addition of other guitarist Kevin Rush the quintet who appear on this CD took shape. And unlike most other Django Reinhardt style groups who usually do jazz standards or other cover tunes, Le Percolateur performs all original material on their CD. And the band's influences run wide. They do the expected jazzy music that can evoke 1930s French cabaret, the band also creates tune in a style more typical of a rock band, and they can sometimes get a little ethereal. So the album is as musically interesting as it is rhythmically infectious. It's also lyrically clever much of the time. Vocalist Candace Washburn is a real asset to the group. She is very American, rather than sounding like a French chanteuse but she proves to be quite versatile as well. The band has a number of guests on the album, including a bunch of horns, and occasionally, the group breaks a taboo on the style and includes some electric guitars.

The 50-minute-long, 11-track CD begins with one of their compositions that could have been a rock song. Bad Crazy Day has the a kind of rock energy level and lyrical style. The track shows the high level of musicianship by the band and the appealing vocals of Ms. Washburn. <<>>

Another original composition whose style of writing could have come from well outside the jazz world is called Nothing Special. The track featured the guest horn players. <<>>

The Django Reinhardt style is known for being fast and swinging. But Le Percolateur includes some slow ballads. All I Want is You is a pretty waltz that is nicely handled by the group. <<>>

There are two instrumentals on the CD, both of which are rather stylistic eclectic. A piece called Two Weeks conjures Middle Eastern sounds, and is a nice fit for the group's instrumentation. <<>>

Candace Washburn's vocals can be impressive. A song that highlights her singing, as well as one that actually evokes the Gypsy jazz style, is called Goin' Out. <<>>

Waiting for the End of the World features some electric guitar and is reminiscent of the style of Les Paul and Mary Ford, though they never used a fiddle. <<>>

Another of the album's highlights is a piece called Open Up the Door which also features a strong performance by Ms. Washburn. It's an interesting hybrid of styles, with some theatrical or cabaret influences with the jazz swing. <<>> Violinist Marielle de Rocca-Serra gets a solo feature. <<>>

The CD ends with its lengthiest piece, House which features a continually evolving pastiche of styles that allows the group to show off some of its various facets. <<>> Through some overdubbing is a kind string section <<>> as well as an a cappella segment with multiple voices performed by Ms Washburn. <<>>

Pop Manouche the debut full-length album by the Chicago-based group Le Percolateur is an impressive and fun album that continues the revived interest in the style of Django Reinhardt and adds a strong streak of musical eclecticism. The quintet perform original music and make it that way, rather than trying to be authentic revivalists. Vocalist Candace Washburn is part cabaret singer, part pop singer and a bit of a rocker under the surface, and she can match the band's instrumental eclecticism. The rest of the players are first-rate as well. It's also not often that one has a group playing in this style that has three women as members.

Our grade for sound quality is an "A-Minus." The acoustic instruments are well-recorded and have a nice warm sound. But Ms. Washburn's vocals sometimes have more studio effects than this kind of music calls for.

Le Percolateur has emerged as a first rate group that offers something different and an original twist to Gypsy jazz revival, sixty years after the passing of Django Reinhardt.

(c) Copyright 2013 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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