Whether you are new to the Hot Club of San Francisco or a longtime fan (or even a longtime fan who already has many of their 14 previous CDs) . . . 30 Years is a worthy addition and pretty much a must-have album.
For the person just at the gateway of gypsy jazz and wanting an introduction to one of the world’s great gypsy jazz combos…well, just how wide is HCSF’s range? A friend borrowed 30 Yearsand thought it was a mixtape of various groups…THAT’S how wide HCSF’s range is, boyo!
30 Years is elegant and sublime in how it spans the three decades of repertoire and the release hits on all the unique niches, nooks, crannies and celestial romper rooms where the HCSF likes to play. HCSF’s founding leader, Paul “Pazzo” Mehling sings and plays all manner of instruments, constellating around his inventive guitar improvisations. His reimagining of the catalog kicks off with a treatment of Thelonious Monk’s ‘Round Midnight…a jazz tune that might seem quite distant from what Django played, yet HCSF shows you a bridge you did not know existed. Vocals adorn and extend the instrumentalist foundation of the group, and are simply delightful—from Isabelle Fontaine’s elegance and cabaret cred(I Love Paris)to the 40s chorus flavor of La Gitane, to the unheard-of French rendition of the Beatles’ If I Needed Someone.
Jonesin’ is an all-time favorite HCSF original composition, and one hopes we get more of these from Evan Price, HCSF’s award-winning violinist, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist.
30 Years works as more than just an anthology. It’s a coherent album creatively fashioned. The eclecticism and range are held together by thoughtful and innovative sequencing. In a pretty gutsy move, a slow tune(Alle Prese Con Una Verde Milonga) is followed by an even slower one, Messe/Improvisation…and it works!
And Messe/Improvisation is a unique piece, a work of musical archeology that deserves an award all its own. Django Reinhardtcomposed it, dictating bits and pieces to a clarinetist. It was performed once on organ, and HCSF discovered a rare and rough recording from which Evan Price pulled themes and then wrote an arrangement for woodwind quintet. The original finished score is long gone, but a few years ago a French jazz (not gypsy) guitarist found the remaining scraps (literally scraps of paper with ideas but no page numbers or cohesion other than a few random notations: voices here, strings here, horns here,etc.). Price pieced it together. There is even now a scored but as yet unperformed symphonic version in the works. Bottom line, it is a gorgeous piece of music, reminiscent of Maurice Ravel’s compositions and it alone is worth the price of admission. If it’s one of your favorites, too, find it and Choros again bringing a satisfying climax to HCSF’s most conceptual and phantasmal album, Bohemian Maestro: Django Reinhardt and the Impressionists.
Putting Beatles tunes at the end of the album helps a new listener understand the depth of the HCSF’s craftsmanship in connecting the Fab Four with Django. All of a sudden, it’s not a novelty, but a sacred and swinging response to two of the great creative forces of the last century, performed by one of the great creative ensembles of this one.
For the casual fan who is about to become less casual and wants to go deeper into HCSF’s catalogue…this is the one to get. And for veteran fans of HCSF, this collection of previously released recordings is nonetheless a keeper and value-added. As THE Hot Club of the CD era, one always got their money’s worth on every HCSF release…a lot of music! Sometimes the true range and variety could get lost in the embarrassment of riches. With such careful selection of tunes and thoughtful sequencing, many HCSF’s fans are likely to rediscover gems they may have overlooked. The mastering is smooth and doesn’t mess with the original sound, so a great listen is guaranteed. Don’t walk, RUN to the nearest record storecomputer, and get your copy of 30 Years.
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