Evan Christopher’s Django à la Créole spices up the hot Gypsy swing pioneered by Django Reinhardt with the cool Creole rhythms of New Orleans and beyond. The American clarinetist and Europe-based rhythm section of double bass, and two guitars, have been charming audiences worldwide with their seductive performances since 2007. The quartet artfully juxtaposes virtuosity with an acoustic, intimate approach and unfailingly balances a reverence for tradition with being up-to-the minute and in-the moment.
The primary inspiration for this unique fusion of New Orleans clarinet with “Jazz Manouche” was Reinhardt’s historic recording session in 1939 with Duke Ellington sidemen Rex Stewart and Creole clarinetist Barney Bigard. Djangologists may recognize a resemblance to the incarnation of “Quintet of the Hot Club of France” that featured clarinetist Hubert Rostaing, yet Django à la Créole is much more than a repertory ensemble. Christopher and his band thoughtfully re-invent classic material by infusing their arrangements with musical idioms from New Orleans as well as Brazil, Cuba and the Caribbean. The results are personal and often clever tributes to their jazz heroes.
The mastery of rhythm guitarist, Dave Kelbie is known well by anyone who follows contemporary exponents of Gypsy jazz such as Tcha Limberger or Fapy Lafertin. On the other hand, the pedigree of bassist Sebastien Girardot is more recognized pertinent to aficionados of traditional jazz. For the solo guitar chair, the band recently welcomed New Orleans native, Don Vappie. Besides being a highly skilled guitarist, Vappie contributes warm vocal renderings of authentic Creole Jazz songs, classics from the early days of New Orleans, as well as jaw-dropping banjo features.
Three CD recordings, collaboratively produced by LeJazzetal and Paris-based Fremeaux et Associés, exemplify the appeal of the band’s engaging presentations. The self-titled “Django à la Crèole” (2007), though released in New Orleans at the 25th anniversary of the French Quarter Festival, was warmly received in the U.K. and France. Their second outing, “Finesse” (2010) took a cue from later recordings by Django by changing the lead guitar voice to an electric-acoustic timbre. The more expressive pallet and greater interplay between guitar and clarinet was clearly the right move, as this CD was chosen Sunday Times Jazz Album of the Year in 2010. The most recent CD, “LIVE” (2014), captures the quartet’s loose, infectious energy in varied acoustic settings, and has critics rhetorically asking, “Is there a more graceful band at work at the moment?”