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Formed in 2007, this international group spices up the Hot Club texture of Django Reinhardt by emphasizing hallmarks of New Orleans Jazz including blues, rhythms of the monde Créole, and collective improvisation.
In late-August, 2005, the flooding after the wake of Hurricane Katrina left Clarinetist Evan Christopher and 4 thousand musicians without homes. With little more than his clarinet and a suitcase full of clothes, Christopher chose Paris for his exile. He worked diligently to raise awareness about the musical culture of New Orleans through concerts and masterclasses.
Django a la Créole has toured all over the US, UK, EU and the Far East, and their album Finesse won the 2010 Sunday Times Jazz Album of the Year.
De la Nouvelle Orléans au légendaire Carnegie Hall, de Tokyo à Paris, l’Américain Evan Christopher s’est imposé sur toutes les scènes de Jazz comme le clarinettiste le plus important de ces dernières années.Avec cette formation « Django à la Créole » il a obtenu d’élogieuses critiques parues dans le New York Times ou le Wall Street Journal. Entouré du guitariste Don Vappie, du contrebassiste Sébastien Girardot et de Dave Kelbie à la rythmique, Evan Christopher a captivé les publics du monde entier, en proposant une symbiose inoubliable des sons de la Nouvelle Orléans et du swing manouche de Django Reinhardt.
“Is there a more graceful band at work at the moment?” THE SUNDAY TIMES UK
“The epithet “flawless technique” does not even begin to describe Evan Christopher’s manner of playing” ALL ABOUT JAZZ (USA)
“One of the world’s finest jazz clarinettists” JOHN MUNCH (FINANCIAL TIMES)
“remarkably cohesive and constant swing” JAZZMAN FRANCE
“Dave Kelbie tient impeccablement le tempo, à tous les temps : de zéro à deux cent vingt” THE JAZZMANN UK
“the astonishing clarinet of Evan Christopher, is a triumph, joining the present seamlessly to a glorious past” THE OBSERVER
“talented and charismatic” TIMEOUT
“in the history of jazz, he will be amidst the greatest of all times” JAZZ CLASSIQUE FRANCE
“Enchanting” THE SUNDAY OBSERVER UK
“timeless stuff” THE SUNDAY TIMES UK
“Christopher’s rush of ideas and ardent lyricism brought fresh urgency” HOWARD REICH, CHICAGO TRIBUNE
“In his own deeply personal appreciation of these forebears, he is indeed demonstrating that this New Orleans tradition is still very much alive” NAT HENTOFF, JAZZTIMES MAGAZINE
“Evan Christopher is earthy and passionate, but also elegant and urbane” PAUL DE BARROS, DOWNBEAT MAGAZINE
“Evan illustrates the versatility, adaptability, and flexibility that has always been a hallmark of the Creole approach to the clarinet, while also rendering a personal style that is uniformly ardent, tender, and joyous” BRUCE BOYD RAEBURN – CURATOR OF THE HOGAN JAZZ ARCHIVES, NEW ORLEANS
“[Evan] is, in my estimation, not only the greatest jazz clarinetist alive, but one of the greatest of all time” AHMET ERTEGUN, FOUNDING CHAIRMAN OF ATLANTIC RECORDS
“He makes close-encounter music” NEW YORK TIMES
“A forthright sound and a hungry energy” NEW YORK TIMES
Jazz Da Gama USA
28.08.2014 – Evan Christopher: Django à la Créole Live! Frémeaux & Associés FA8501
Evan Christopher’s band, Django à la Créole is a band like no other. To begin with the music fostered by Mr. Christopher and his band pays homage to his roots—New Orleans. Now there are many bands that pay tribute to New Orleans, some better than others. But truly, there is no ensemble like Evan Christopher’s. That’s because New Orleans, to most would mean Congo Square and Gumbo and Bourbon Street. But New Orleans is much more than that. There is a part of Spain in it when begat the Spanish tinge in contradanzas; and France, in gigues and bourées, some say long before jazz was born; it is Africa, because like Nigeria, slaves were brought from everywhere and the most primordial music that throbbed with visceral energy was born; it is the Caribbean and murderous slavery there too, but despite which, as in New Orleans a rhythm took root and a music took shape and it was like nothing on earth. All this in a relatively little place—the Congo Square—where African worship took place in the guise of a never-heard-before music: Jazz. This is the music of Evan Christopher’s Django à la Créole, a band like no other.
Django à la Créole was created by a group of musicians faced with the duress of digital distribution. However, it is no secret that they wanted the same thing: to make music that paid tribute to the real roots of jazz and to exemplify two things: The dignity and elegance of Duke Ellington and the visceral energy of Louis Armstrong, who just could not stop spreading good cheer through the music of jazz. On Live Mr. Christopher does exactly that. This is the third of the group’s recordings, and seven years down the road the band sounds just as effervescent and creative and inventive as the day the music of New Orleans was born. Sounding old—in a sense—and brand new and contemporary is no mean achievement. And yet it is not just notionally named after Django Reinhardt, because that Gypsy legend was as much a part of the history of Jazz and New Orleans as anyone else. And so the clarinet of Mr. Christopher meets the guitars of the two Dave’s—Blenkhorn and Kelbie—who return his every phrase with vivacity and sensuous abandon as well as with a risqué move or two.
Evan Christopher is in a class of his own. His burnished woody tone is melded with the primeval whelp of early musicians. Albert Nicholas comes to mind, but Mr. Christopher is a singular voice. His lines are sophisticated and crafted with great intellect. And yet he has a visceral energy that comes from sliding through the New Orleans grassroots. Mr. Christopher can also create brilliant inversions in his mighty soli, sometimes drawing the guitar of Mr. Blenkhorn and the bass of Mr. Girardot in its wake. And he is a master of beginning a solo improvisation in the middle of a melodic phrase, as if the melody came from in his pocket. His own soli are sensuous; almost sexually inviting and if the other instruments were women, then they are most certainly seduced. Just listen to “Douce Ambience.” And listen to when he steps in the shadows and Dave Blenkhorn steps into the limelight… It is almost as if he were preening himself at such a seduction. The record is full of performances such as these and it is almost a shame to stop at mentioning just one of them. But there are also great performances by the other band-members. For instance Sebastian Girardot has an astounding solo in “Riverboat Shuffle.” And of course Mr. Kelbie is the backbone and the anchor of the ensemble sitting in for a drummer as much as he does for a rhythm guitarist. He is, quite simply, the best rhythm guitarist in the world. Just as Django à la Créole is one of the best bands in the world playing any kind of repertoire.
RAUL DA GAMA
Jazz Journal UK
01.07.2014 – EVAN CHRISTOPHER’S DJANGO A LA CREOLE LIVE! Frémeaux & Associés FA8501
The first live album by this remarkable group contains performances recorded in the UK in 2012, towards the end of a lengthy international tour. As the group’s name and instrumentation suggests, it’s style basically applies a broad-based traditional New Orleans Creole approach to Reinhardt’s gypsy swing. But the talented New Orleans clarinettist Evan Christopher (whose mentor, surprisingly, was Tony Scott) is at pains to point out, in his earnest sleeve notes, that many other seasonings are added to this multicultural musical gumbo.
The “Spanish Tinge” advocated by Jelly Roll Morton is honoured specifically in detailed arrangements of Mamanita and The Crave. Both tunes are recreated afresh with sensitivity and skilled attention to Morton’s rhythmic dynamics capturing the strong emotional groundswell which permeates the expressive melodies.
Although the quartet is clearly inspired by the classic jazz of such masters as Morton, Ellington and Reinhardt, it’s commendably ambitious integration of other influences indicates a forward looking interest in reinterpretation and meaningful development. Diverse rhythms incorporate at times the style of a Cuban bolero, a Brazilian samba, a tango, a bossa nova, or a blues shuffle, whilst straightahead driving 4/4 is no problem. Tonal texture is constantly varied, prominence is swapped around in practised interplay.
Christopher’s piquant Creole style is vibrantly expressive, notably so in imaginative interpretations of Dear Old Southland and The Mooche. His colleagues are similarly impressive, contributing colourful solos and close rapport in ensemble. Blenkhorn’s guitar in Manoir De Mes Reves is quite outstanding. An exceptionally fine album, thoughtfully planned with unusual care, and very skilfully performed.
Djam La Revue FRANCE
28.06.2014 – Les reprises du maître manouche offrent toutes un regard nouveau sur son œuvre
Le manouche a tout d’une secte, où on oblige les guitaristes à jouer à trois doigts, où l’on récite des accords diminués comme autant de je vous salue Marie, où ne pas connaître son Minor Swing vous conduit au bûcher. Depuis quelques années, la secte a réussi (c’est donc une religion) et le manouche s’est fait quelque peu envahissant, donnant aux plus fidèles l’impression qu’il tournait en rond dans une carriole publicitaire du tour de France. Blasphème des blasphèmes ; Django m’a soûlé. Il fallait juste l’envoyer boire du rhum et manger du boudin créole sur des accents swing néo-orléanais. Depuis 2007, les hérétiques de l’ensemble « Django à la Créole » dirigé par Evan Christopher s’y emploient, accueillant le premier guitar hero de l’histoire dans leur univers marqué par le swing et de lointains relents de biguine. Leur premier album live fait bien ressentir le mariage travaillé entre la musique de Django et le paysage sonore de la Nouvelle-Orléans. Evan Christopher revendique trois héritages : Ellington, Armstrong et Reinhardt. Cet album rend hommage aux trois, quitte à tomber parfois dans une musique nostalgique qui sonne comme des clichés sépia en hommage aux trois maîtres du jazz. La reprise de Johnny Hodges, (« One for the Duke »), impeccable et lumineuse, fleure ainsi bon les années 50. Le band impressionne, y compris dans ces sets classiques, par sa clarté et le soin mis aux mélodies. La reprise de Jelly Roll Morton « Mamanita » impose ainsi un blues aérien où les improvisations syncopées de David Blenkhorn à la guitare et le phrasé quasi céleste d’Evan Christopher font léviter longtemps. L’évidence technique et mélodique du set est toute entière mise au service du projet de rencontre entre deux univers musicaux, le manouche et le swing de la Nouvelle-Orléans. La reprise du classique « Douce Ambiance » de Django en ouverture est d’une lenteur audacieuse et rafraîchissante pour qui a trop entendu le titre. Les reprises du maître manouche offrent toutes un regard nouveau sur son œuvre, revigorée par la rencontre avec ces sonorités New Orleans. Seul véritable bémol dans ce paysage enchanteur : le caractère live de l’album est atténué par une production qui a sélectionné des extraits de quatre concerts différents, comme cela devient de plus en plus systématique pour les enregistrements live. Ce choix réduit l’ambiance d’une musique jouée en publique à quelques secondes d’applaudissements éparpillées çà et là, alors que les improvisations collectives qui font l’originalité du groupe renvoient un aspect très « studio », dans leur maîtrise et leur propreté. Il ne faut pas pour autant bouder une musique fidèle à son credo de « rendre les gens heureux » dans la lignée des grands noms du jazz, qui retrouvent dans ce paysage sonore inédit une nouvelle jeunesse. Il ne faut surtout pas ignorer le talent de clarinettiste d’Evan Christopher, à qui son phrasé mélodique et syncopé donne des ailes retros qui en font un grand monsieur de l’instrument.
Jazz News FRANCE
01.06.2014 – Un disque remarquable
Dans son excellent ouvrage « Swing Under the Nazis, Jazz as a Metaphor for Freedom », Mike Zwerin, tromboniste et critique de l’ “International Herald Tribune” décrit autant qu’il imagine un jeune Django Reinhardt âgé de dix ans, vers 1920, faisant la manche en jouant sur banjo déglingué au marché du Kremlin-Bicêtre : « Sa musique était, disons, étrange. On avait l’impression que quelqu’un d’autre que lui grattait les cordes. Quiconque ayant fréquenté La Nouvelle-Orléans aurait même pu reconnaître des bribes d’un phrasé rappelant le blues. Vraiment étonnant car Django, bien sûr, n’y avait jamais mis les pieds. » Quatre-vingt-dix ans plus tard, le clarinettiste louisianais d’adoption, Evan Christopher accompagné de deux guitaristes, David Blenkhorn et Dave Kelbie, et d’un contrebassiste, Sébastien Girardot, ressuscite, développe, réinvente ce lien ténu et miraculeux qui semblait unir le génial improvisateur manouche aux talentueux pionniers créoles de Tremé et de Back O’Town. Ce premier « live » du groupe capté au Royaume-Uni reprend standards de l’entre–deux guerres (Jelly Roll Morton, Duke, Johnny Hodges) et quatre thèmes de Django tel « Douce ambiance » où la rythmique marquée par la clave caribéenne permet à la mélodie de planer avec une grâce infinie. Et un « Songe d’automne »débridé conclut en véritable apothéose ce disque remarquable. A signaler que le guitariste et banjoïste Don Vapie remplace désormais David Blenkhorn au sein du groupe ce qui devrait « créoliser » un peu plus cette belle aventure.
06.05.2014 – Un des musiciens le plus passionnants de son époque
Qu’Evan Christopher soit le meilleur clarinetiste actuel dans le Style New Orleans, digne en tous points des grands ancêtres pour ce qui est du swing, du son , de l’inspiration ; qu’il s’inscrive sur son instrument, tous styles confondus, parmi les meilleurs techniciens de l’histoire de jazz, pas un amateur qui n’en convienne. En témoigne le succès de ses albums précédents, en particulier « Django à la créole » (Frémeaux, 2008) dont le titre pourrait laisser penser qu’il en propose aujourd’hui une resucée. Erreur. En dépit des apparences, il ne s’agit nullement d’un doublon. D’abord parce que si la formation reste identique, le répertoire, lui, ne conserve que les deux compositions de Django, Douces Ambiance et Manoir de mes rêves, dans des versions largement renouvelées. Pour le reste, outre Féérie du même Django, deux thèmes de Jelly Roll Morton, Mamamita et The Crave, des standards du jazz traditionnel, tel Dear Old South, et des morceaux au climat ellingtonien signés par Duke, Jonnhy Hodges et Rex Stewart. Deuxième différence de taille, la captation live lors de quatre concerts durant une tournée au Royaume-Uni en 2012. Elle produit sur les musiciens une incontestable stimulation et tout le disque baigne dans une atmosphère chaleureuse. S’en trouve magnifié l’énergie de chacun, singulièrement de David Blenkhor, auteur de quelques solos superlatifs de guitare électriques, et de Sébastien Girardot, en valeur dans Riveboat shuffle, The Mooche et Solid Old Man, blues que Django enregistra en son temps avec des musiciens d’Ellington. Une musique généreuse, tour à tour explosive et recueillie, swingante, mariant avec bonheur des influences et des couleurs diverses. Elle porte la marque d’un des musiciens le plus passionnants de son époque.
08.04.2014 – D’irrésistibles voluptueuses volutes sonores gorgées de swing
Réécriture originale de la saga « gipsy swing », le projet Django à la créole, déjà six ans d’âge et un troisième CD à paraître début 2014, est un concept imaginé par Evan Christopher, Louisianais d’adoption et « l’un des meilleurs clarinettistes de tous les temps », dixit Ahmet Ertegun, fondateur d’Atlantic Records. Cette idée de créolisation de la musique du Quintette du HCF est venue à Christopher après l’écoute des sessions enregistrées par Dajngo avec le clarinettiste Barney Bigard en 1939. Evan Christopher développe d’irrésistibles et voluptueuses volutes sonores, qui empruntent aussi à la Caraïbe et au Brésil, mais toujours gorgées de swing.
01.04.2014 – D’irrésistibles voluptueuses volutes sonores gorgées de swing
Now this is a fun record that never falters in its energetic vibe or superior musicianship. Recorded at the end of a 2012 tour in the United Kingdom, Evan Christopher and the band Django a la Creole explore both popular and obscure cuts from the traditional, swing, and gypsy jazz repertoire. All the musicians here are at the top of their game.
Music seems to be pouring non-stop out Christopher’s clarinet, its husky, dark tone with quick interjections and long runs allowing his ideas to come to great conclusions. He can make his horn sound pretty, blow some high, winnying notes such as on “Dear Old Southland,” or almost turn his clarinet into percussive bird calls at the end of “Songe d’Automne.”
Guitarists David Blenkhorn and Dave Kelbie play with intricacy and lyricism as the tunes call for it. Their heavy strumming on “Riverboat” pushes Christopher to even greater heights.
The band also plays two entries from the Jelly Roll Morton book, “Mamanita” and “The Crave,” where, despite lack of percussion or piano, they keep Morton’s unique sense of rhythm and melody. Their take on Duke Ellington’s “The Mooche” adds an almost Cuban section that adds to their interpretation of this standard. It has an energy that is prevalent on every song here.
The band has that loose, intimate feeling where it is easy to hear how much the musicians are enjoying the music and each other, but it is tight in that there is a precision in their playing. Christopher and his band get better every record, and this one is their best yet.
Sunday Times UK
23.03.2014 – EVAN CHRISTOPHER’S DJANGO A LA CREOLE LIVE! Frémeaux & Associés FA8501
Is there a more graceful band at work at the moment? On a mission to celebrate the legacy of Django Reinhardt and olde New Orleans — not forgetting Duke Ellington — the American clarinettist Evan Christopher adds plenty of Jelly Roll Morton’s “Spanish tinge” to the drummerless quartet’s repertoire. Morton’s tune The Crave is one gem among many on a disc recorded on the road in the UK. The bassist Sebastien Girardot and the guitarists Dave Kelbie and David Blenkhorn are their usual debonair selves, but have no trouble turning up the heat on a glorious version of Duke’s standard The Mooche.
14.03.2014 – CD Django à la créole live Fremeaux 2014
Si vous n’étiez pas au Duc des Lombards, club où les conditions sont idéales (proximité, intimité, ambiance, communication entre public et musiciens), et bien précipitez vous sur ce live ; vous y retrouverez la plupart des titres ci-dessus nommés mais aussi une version de 9’ de Dear Old southland, morceau emblématique des jazz funérailles à la Nouvelle Orléans, d’abord interprété comme un cantique religieux puis à la manière des vieilles fanfares, One for the Duke de Johnny Hodges, dans un traitement bluesy, Mamanita et The crave, deux compos pour piano de Jelly Roll Morton représentatives de la syncope latine (dixit JRM cité par Evan dans les notes de pochette) que le groupe interprète à sa manière. Voilà une musique et un disque qui rendent heureux et devraient être remboursés par la sécurité sociale.
14.03.2014 – Django à la créole Paris 6 mars duc des lombards premier show
Les 5 et 6 mars, Django à la créole présentait son nouveau disque » live » au duc des lombards. Petit changement au sein du quartet ; c’est maintenant Don Vappie, ami et collègue néo orléanais d’Evan Christopher qui officie à la guitare (et au banjo), à la place de David Blenkorn qui, lui, est encore présent sur le disque live.
Le set débute par Blues in the air ; impeccable et imperturbable (Sébastien Girardot fait ronfler sa contrebasse et Dave Kelbie distille de beaux accords et un swing léger) la section rythmique déroule le tapis aux solistes ; quand il ne chorusse pas, Evan descend au milieu du public et écoute ses petits camarades. 7 ans déjà qu’il a rencontré Dave et lui a proposé, fasciné qu’il était par les sessions de 1938 de Django avec quelques musiciens d’Ellington, notamment le néo orléanais Barney Bigard, de développer cette expérience, à savoir combiner traditions néo orléanaises et musique de Django, cela sans passéisme et en louchant aussi vers d’autres traditions aux influences africaines (Cuba, Brésil, Caraibes). Le groupe interprète ensuite Douce ambiance dans une version créolisée, servie par un superbe arrangement et une grande intelligence musicale ; à l’inverse il djangoïse les morceaux new orleans comme ce superbe Riverboat shuffle d’H. Carmichael, dans une version qui swingue à mort et où tout le monde envoie fusée sur fusée (interventions toujours mélodiques des uns et des autres, beau solo slappé du contrebassiste). Emotionnellement palpitant, le jeu sensuel à la sonorité chaude et boisée du clarinettiste, conjugue expression, énergie et virtuosité exceptionnelle ; Musicien complet au swing terrible qui dirige le Créole jazz serenaders à la nouvelle Orléans, le nouveau guitariste est un sacré client qui alterne jeu en accords et en single notes et tire l’ensemble vers les traditions new orléanaises (pour sally down, compo d’Albert Nicolas, il troque la guitare pour le banjo et chante en créole), alors que Dave Blenkorn avait un profil plus jazz. Solid old man, blues enregistré par Django avec les musiciens de Duke est l’occasion de mettre en valeur Sébastien Girardot. Le quartet a une pêche d’enfer et met le feu, sans oublier pour autant sens de la nuance et musicalité, enchainant tropical moon de Bechet, The mooche d’Ellington, i know that you know de Jimmy Noon ( avec un remarquable exposé à la guitare et un chorus époustouflant d’Evan), et bien sûr Django à la créole développé à partir du thème d’Improvisation n°3 de Django. La classe !
14.03.2014 – Evan Christopher’s Django a la Creole, Huntingdon Hall, Worcester, 08/03/20
A band that always delivers and which really stands out amongst the scores of Django Reinhardt inspired acolytes. A performance by Evan Christopher is both an entertainment and an education.
Evan Christopher’s Django a la Creole, Huntingdon Hall, Worcester, 08/03/2014.
The progress of clarinettist Evan Christopher’s Django a la Creole project has been well documented on the Jazzmann web pages. Born in Los Angeles Christopher made New Orleans his home for a number of years before moving to Paris in the wake of the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina. However Christopher’s years in New Orleans cemented his profound affection for the music of the Crescent City, a love that finds its expression in Django a la Creole’s recordings and performances.
Django a la Creole made its live début in 2007 and the group has since recorded three albums “Django a la Creole” (2008) “Finesse” (2010) and the recently released “Live!”(2014). This latest instalment was recorded at four different venues at the end of the group’s 2012 UK tour and follows a similar format to the brilliant performance I saw in the intimate confines of the Shrewsbury Coffeehouse just a few days before the actual recording. All three albums are highly recommended as are the group’s live performances which combine great playing with informed and entertaining comment on the music involved. A performance by Evan Christopher is both an entertainment and an education.
Following the recent flooding in the UK it was great to get and see some live music once again. I’d been forced to abandon planned trips to Abergavenny, Shrewsbury, Birmingham and even nearby Presteigne due to the weather so it was perhaps a touch ironic that the first gig I went to in what seemed like ages should be in Worcester, a city particularly badly afflicted by the recent deluge. I’m pleased to report that life in the city is now back to normal and that Huntingdon Hall itself appeared to be unscathed. The venue is a converted church with an excellent acoustic and I’ve seen a number of memorable performances here over the years, mainly in the jazz and folk genres although the Hall also presents other types of music from rock to classical plus comedy and theatre. A genuine across the board arts centre it is largely staffed by a band of loyal volunteers. And while we’re talking of Worcester let’s hope the County Cricket Club manages to repair the damage done to the pitch by the recent flooding before the start of the new season.
I had originally intended to combine a review of tonight’s show with a look at the recent live album. My thanks to rhythm guitarist Dave Kelbie for furnishing me with a copy of the album and also for putting my wife and I on the guest list for tonight’s show. However tonight’s performance was so substantially different I feel that it’s probably best if tonight’s gig and the album are treated as separate entities. The reason for this change of heart is the result of a significant line up change. Christopher, Kelbie, double bassist Sebastien Girardot and lead guitarist Dave Blenkhorn have constituted the group since the beginning but for this tour Blenkhorn has been replaced by the remarkable Don Vappie, a multi instrumentalist and vocalist from New Orleans.
Vappie not only plays convincing lead guitar in this context but is also a highly accomplished banjo player who has recorded a number of albums on the latter instrument. He’s played bass with Wynton Marsalis and is also a more than useful vocalist. Christopher and Vappie played regularly together in New Orleans before the clarinettist moved to Paris. Vappie remained in his native city where he performs regularly with his own jazz orchestra, the Creole Jazz Serenaders.
Vappie’s inclusion adds extra authenticity to the Creole part of the equation but one shouldn’t under estimate the influence of the great Django Reinhardt. As I’ve observed in earlier articles about this project there’s still a lot of Reinhardt influenced music around but none of the many gypsy jazz groups sound quite like Django a la Creole. Christopher’s group is one of the most distinctive Reinhardt inspired groups around and adds a contemporary, often exotic twist to the Reinhardt legacy through the use of Latin and Brazilian rhythms.
Although tonight’s performance included several items from the quartet’s albums the presence of Vappie cast the music in a new light, particularly so with Vappie’s banjo and voice increasing the range of sounds available to the group. Tonight’s show was also notable for being virtually all acoustic, Vappie deployed a small amp but the other three members were essentially unplugged with the acoustics of the hall ensuring that all four were clearly audible and with the sound particularly well delineated. I don’t think I’ve heard Kelbie’s rhythm lines in such sharp definition before.
Vappie, Kelbie and Girardot took to the stage first with Christopher making something of a grand entrance as the quartet opened with “Linger A While”with solos from Christopher on clarinet, Vappie on guitar and Girardot on double bass, his use of the slap technique frequently adding to the music’s rhythmic drive. This was the group’s second gig of the day following a lunch time appearance at a well attended jazz festival at Colston Hall, Bristol, this following a delayed overnight trip on the Eurostar following a show in Paris – and yet they showed no signs of tiredness. Instead they exuded a genuine sense of fun allied to a sense of discovery as they explored the possibilities of this new international configuration featuring two Americans, the English Kelbie and the Franco/Australian Girardot.
Christopher’s love of his source material is expressed both in his playing and in his instructive comments on the music throughout a performance. Each tune is introduced with both background information as to its provenance and further explanation with regard to the group’s interpretation of it. The listener learns a lot at an Evan Christopher show, he’s a fine educator and a good ambassador for this music. The group continued with Reinhardt’s “Douce Ambiance”, the composition that opens the recent live album. Christopher explained how he liked to “Creolize” Reinhardt’s tunes, in this case adding the Cuban habanera rhythm to achieve something of Jelly Roll Morton’s famous “Spanish Tinge”.
Of course the process also works in reverse, Christopher also likes to “Django-ize” New Orleans tunes, in this case a lively version of Hoagy Carmichael’s “River Boat Shuffle with Kelbie’s breakneck rhythms fuelling solos from Christopher on clarinet, Vappie on guitar and an extensive feature from Girardot on elaborately slapped bass.
The next item saw a radical departure for the group with Vappie switching to banjo to sing the Creole song “Salee Dame”, a piece that originally appeared on the 1940’s recording “Jazz A La Creole” featuring clarinettist Albert Nicholas, bassist Pops Foster, drummer Baby Dodds and others.
The sung verses alternated with instrumental solos by Christopher on clarinet and Vappie on banjo.
Kelbie described Vappie’s banjo playing as “funky” but it’s much more than that. He’s a brilliant player on this often maligned instrument and his playing of it in the second set was frequently jaw dropping. He’s no slouch on the guitar either and it’s remarkable to think that he may consider the guitar as his second, or even third instrument.
Introducing the next tune Christopher told us of Django Reinhardt’s meeting with the Duke Ellington band in Europe in 1938. Reinhardt subsequently recorded with members of the Ellington band including trumpeter Rex Stewart and clarinettist Barney Bigard, the latter a major inspiration for this project. Stewart’s tune “Solid Old Man” is a popular item in the repertoire of the Christopher group, here something of a feature for the excellent Girardot who demonstrated his fluency as a soloist without recourse to the slapping technique as Kelbie provided the necessary rhythmic drive.
“Mamanita” was an arrangement of a solo piano piece by Jelly Roll Morton with a renewed focus on Morton’s “Spanish Tinge” through the inclusion of clave and habanera rhythms as Christopher and Vappie enjoyed a series of scintillating clarinet and guitar exchanges.
The first set concluded with a rousing version of Reinhardt’s “I Know You Know”, originally a celebration of the shared language of jazz featuring the European Reinhardt and the American Bigard. Vappie’s solo guitar intro gave way to Kelbie’s ferocious rhythmic drive and Christopher’s solo also evoked the spirit of Jimmie Noone. Vappie returned for another fleet fingered guitar feature and Girardot also featured before Christopher played us out with a second solo, complete with quote from “Swanee River”.
Set two began rather incongruously with “The Farewell Blues”, originally by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings and later recorded by Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter. Here we heard suitably hot solos from Christopher on clarinet, Vappie on guitar and Girardot on slapped bass.
A marvellous version of “Buddy Bolden’s Blues” (aka “Funky Butt”) featured Vappie’s voice and banjo. His banjo solo was a real tour de force, I’ve never seen this instrument, often the butt of musicians’ jokes, played so brilliantly, except perhaps by Eugene Chadbourne or Bela Fleck. However compared to the post modern approach of these guys Vappie’s playing stays much closer to his New Orleans source, even allowing for a quote from Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer”.
The music of Sidney Bechet is another touchstone from Christopher. From the album “Finesse” came “Tropical Moon” in an arrangement that incorporated the merengue and habanera rhythms of Haiti. Members of the audience could be seen swaying in their seats as they enjoyed solos by Christopher on clarinet and Vappie on guitar.
Reinhardt’s “Manoir de Mes Reves”, often known as “Django’s Castle” was written in the 1940’s and revealed the influence of modern classical music, particularly that of Ravel and Debussy, upon the composer. Christopher’s arrangement combines Reinhardt’s balladry with a Cuben bolero and here provided a setting for Vappie’s coolly elegant guitar and Christopher’s almost flute like clarinet tones.
A strutting, high tempo version of Hoagy Carmichael’s “ Jubilee” was dedicated to the memory of Louis Armstrong with exceptional solos from Christopher on clarinet, Vappie on guitar and Girardot with the now familiar slapped bass.
In his liner notes to the recent live album Christopher describes his arrangement of Duke Ellington’s 1929 hit “The Mooche” as “African”. It certainly offered plenty of dynamic contrasts, smouldering one moment, red hot the next with Vappie on guitar the stand out soloist.
A knowledgeable and enthusiastic audience numbering around eighty (not quite enough to make it the EVENT the Shrewsbury performance had been -fewer people but a sell out in a very intimate venue) gave the quartet a great reception and they returned to play an encore of W.C. Handy’s “Careless Love” featuring Vappie’s banjo and vocals in conjunction with Christopher’s clarinet and a surprisingly lyrical Girardot bass solo.
This was the third time I’d seen Django a la Creole following previous visits to Builth Wells and Abergavenny and it’s true to say that whatever the line up this band always delivers. Christopher is a brilliant soloist, a talented arranger and a great ambassador for the twin strands of Creole music and gypsy jazz. He surrounds himself with highly talented band mates (Kelbie is a great organiser as well as the UK’s go to rhythm guitar player) and has created a band that really stands out amongst the scores of Reinhardt inspired acolytes.
London Jazz news
10.03.2014 – Evan Christopher’s Django À La Creole at The Quecumbar, Battersea
If there is a better living exponent of the New Orleans Creole clarinet style than Evan Christopher, then it’s a discovery I have yet to make. He has the big, woody tone of a Bechet, the control of glissandi of a Bigard, the filigree decorative skills of an Albert Nicholas, the warmth of a Jimmie Noone, and the fire of an Ed Hall. And yet, he always sounds like himself. On pieces such as Jubilee or One for the Duke he proved his credentials as a peerless performer in this idiom. The Quecumbar gig was the UK launch of the third album by the band Django À La Creole, which takes the common ground between traditional New Orleans music and Django’s manouche guitar as its starting point.
The summit meeting between Bigard and Django Reinhardt in May 1939 is a good launch pad for understanding the development of this group’s music. Two of the tracks from that session were included in this concert, a feature for bassist Sébastien Girardot “Solid Old Man” and a blistering solo vehicle for Christopher “I Know That You Know”. On previous tours, the Australian guitarist David Blenkhorn has assumed the Django role, with just enough of Reinhardt’s plangent acoustic sound combined with a fleeter amplified guitar tone to evoke early ‘50s Django. For this brief UK visit, his place has been taken by the New Orleans string specialist Don Vappie.
As a result the group is slightly differently balanced from its earlier incarnation. Vappie is a fine guitar soloist with a post-Charlie Christian vocabulary, but his forays into the Reinhardt area sounded rather like latterday Al Casey (the ex-Fats Waller guitarist who heard Django in New York and changed his style accordingly). The overall results are definitely more Bourbon Street than Montmartre. That’s not a bad thing, and Vappie’s vocal reinterpretation of the Creole Song “Salée Dame”, complete with banjo solo, and with Christopher nodding in the direction of Albert Nicholas, was a joy. Rhythm guitarist Dave Kelbie and Girardot set up an infectiously lilting backing, A vocal version of “Buddy Bolden Blues” would also have gone down well in the Crescent City, not least for Christopher’s complete avoidance of cliché. He is a study in concentration when he plays, but the results are simply brilliant. His control of dynamics, nuance and tone are extraordinary, and he projects this onto the group, notably in a version of “Riverboat Shuffle” that included intricate unison passages with Vappie and sharp contrasts in volume between one section and the next.
The band has hit upon a winning formula, and sustained it through a major change in personnel. Its eponymous theme, a reworking of Reinhardt’s “Improvisation No, 3”, brings the Latin Creole lilt together with Reinhardt’s melodic gift. The most attractive, and unexpected, success of the evening was “Tropical Moon” from Sidney Bechet’s unusual Haitian Orchestra session of 1939. The original pieces by this quintet were by no means great records, but Evan Christopher’s lyrical exploration of this song showed the wonderful depth of music lurking in those largely forgotten 78s.
The Times UK
10.03.2014 – Bristol International Jazz and Blues Festival at Colston Hall, Bristol
They made it by the skin of their teeth. After taking the Eurostar from a gig in Paris, the clarinettist Evan Christopher and his inspired chamber quartet, Django à la Creole, dashed into the Colston Hall’s Lantern venue and set about playing after a minimalist sound-check. They looked a little weary — no surprise since they’d been on the road for so long — yet the music floated effortlessly.
Christopher’s drummer-less fusion of Hot Club swing with New Orleans’s famed “Spanish tinge” produces sotto voce dialogues of the highest quality. With a new live album to promote, and with the Crescent City guitarist and banjo player Don Vappie sitting in alongside the rhythm guitarist Dave Kelbie and the bassist Sebastien Girardot, the quartet unleashed a set that climaxed with Duke Ellington’s The Mooche. Old music, yes, but when it is played with so much spirit and intelligence, everything becomes utterly timeless.
Christopher’s soloing blends raw blues with flourishes of grand opera. Jelly Roll Morton would have loved it. A very different New Orleans tradition was on display in the main hall later when the wisecracking drummer Zigaboo Modeliste led his band through a cheery set of funk work-outs spiced with Meters riffs.
In its second year, with the programme squeezed into one weekend, the festival made a canny job of spanning the spectrum, local luminaries Get the Blessing exploring intelligent, gimmick-free jazz-rock while the I Got Gershwin show brought Jacqui Dankworth together with a big band, string quartet and choir.
Where Christopher had made a virtue of understatement, the 18-year-old Georgian piano prodigy Beka Gochiashvili set off one detonation after another with his trio. As befits a protégé of Chick Corea, his improvising can be overbearing — he fired off more strings of notes in his first two numbers than Christopher managed in an hour — but the best of the pieces, including John Coltrane’s Mr P.C.,were strikingly mature.
The Scotsman UK
09.03.2014 – Evan Christopher’s Django a La Creole
Star rating: * * * * *
This international group has a loyal following thanks to its exhilarating fusion of Evan Christopher’s exotic clarinet sound with the Hot Club format of the trio, and invariably provides a five-star live listening experience, so it’s no surprise that this selection of numbers recorded during their autumn 2012 tour is nigh on sensational. As ever, Christopher thrills with his dynamic, dramatic soloing and exciting interplay with guitarist David Blenkhorn. While most of the titles feature on the quartet’s previous CDs, there is a handful of new tunes – among them One For The Duke, a sublime take on the Ben Webster-Johnny Hodges number I’d Be There.