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Miri Familia

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Album Review

Ever since the early years of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France and its leader, the trailblazing Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, Gypsy (or manouche) jazz combos have been characterized by a number of idiosyncratic factors: no drums, multiple guitars (all acoustic), and arrangements that combine a powerfully swinging rhythm with the dark modalities of traditional Gypsy melodies along with jazz standards. The Alsatian guitarist Tchavolo Schmitt takes some of those characteristics to something of an extreme on this album, which features a sextet comprised of five guitars and a bass. Since the other guitarists all play rhythm, this leads to a curiously flat musical texture and a rather one-dimensional sound (the slightly ramshackle production quality doesn't help much in that regard). But it also means that Schmitt has an absolutely rock-solid rhythmic foundation with which to work, and it serves him very well on material like the original blues composition "Jean-Paul Blues" and a particularly energetic and tuneful rendition of "After You've Gone." "Jersey Bounce" starts off with a promisingly jaunty strut, but bogs down a bit toward the end. The title track is a lovely ballad, also composed by Schmitt, and it is perhaps the finest demonstration of his musical maturity, a quality that permits him to take as much pleasure in long, nicely shaped melodic lines as in the virtuosic stunt-guitar pyrotechnics for which the genre is best known. Fans of Gypsy jazz will love this album, but newcomers may want to start with something a bit more varied in texture.

Miri Familia, Tchavolo Schmitt
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