GYPSY SWING PLAYED WITH SOUL
The North Okanagan Community Concert Association brought another knockout to Vernon in its second offering this year, Van Django. They were hot from the first note. Piping hot.
In the gypsy swing tradition of Django Reinhardt and Le Hot Club de France, this Vancouver string quartet of two guitars a violin and a double bass swung, mixed, mashed and jazzed Mozart and Duke Ellington with Smoke on the Water into the classics, The Beatles and their own originals into a symphonic swing of sound this week at the Performing Arts Centre.
With their first chord they brought in 1930s’ Paris with Reinhardt’s Micro.
“They’re pretty damn impressive,” said Neil Fraser, our own Okanagan jazz guitar great who sat at my side during the show. “It swings really hard, but there’s a buoyancy to it that’s not too aggressive. It’s a really cool package.
That package includes guitarist Budge Schachte who morphed his instrument into a cello, a violin, and a harp with hands sliding up and down that neck like the Indy 500. A guitar string broke Wednesday afternoon and he didn’t miss a beat, kept strumming, pulled out his pliers and had six strings ready for The Beatles’ A Day in the Life.
Also on guitar was Finn Manniche, composer of Chanson de Cowboy. The violin softened to a whistling cowboy on his steed, with guitar trotting hooves over a rocky plain.
“That cowboy song was just amazing,” said Fraser. “He had to play the melody with his left hand, then touch the string 12 frets higher, and pluck the string to produce a harmonic on the note he was fretting. That section with the harmonics was just unbelievable.”
Fraser had never heard Exactly Like You played exactly like that ever before. The number opened and closed with everyone playing harmonics, just like a sonic mist without shape.
In Schachte’s composition, Esteban, bass player Laurence Mollerup stroked a particularly gorgeous solo. It was so slow, like a ballad which gave the bass more space to create melodies and not be bound up in a rhythm.
“It’s so polished, really crisp and well executed arrangements. Sometimes you can get bogged down in all that. That’s swing, eh! It’s not just about executing the arrangement,” said Fraser.
Violinist Cameron Wilson is one of those rare gems able to blend classical and jazz without getting bent out of shape.
“The violin’s intonation is incredible. He’s fascinating, but he’s classical, so why wouldn’t it be?” said Fraser. “It’s really amazing to be able to have one foot in each world. You wouldn’t think they could go together, but he pulls it off. He’s a fantastic jazz technician. His comping is really tasteful, but unobtrusive, a difficult thing to pull off. He’s a real team player.
“It’s almost like the circus. You want to see people having a lot of fun. But when they’re bearing down, they’re taking a lot of risks, because they’re pushing themselves to the edge of the technique, and they could miss some notes there, but that’s what’s so thrilling about jazz. The risk and the poise are on the edge.
“It’s such happy music. The melodic part promotes clarity of thought and I think the strong rhythm rearranges your brain and makes you really clear thinking.”
Van Django ended with the audience whistling and one single down beat from them. As if to say: The music is in you.
Vernon Morning Star
November 25, 2007
"Van Django can deliver acoustic power chords with the lustrous tone of a classical string ensemble while staying fully stoked on the spirit of the Quintette of the Hot Club of France. This is highly recommended listening"
Host of Westcoast Music
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
"Van Django is a West Coast quartet of seriously talented string players who just happen to not take anything very seriously except making high energy, top-flight music. The approach is well-rooted in the tradition of the old Hot Club of France point of departure being their gypsy-guitarist namesake but beyond that it’s all pure blue-skying: flights of dazzling fancy, astonishing technique, boundless creativity. They’ve taken the old smoky Parisian atmospherics and brought it out into the ocean-and-mountain sunshine and it simply delights.
Van Django tosses off jaw-dropping technical licks with effortless ease, but above all, they entertain hugely, with every bar of every tune tried and true or keenly original. If you’re ready for some wide-grin musical imagination, here’s a debut disc to build a party around. Don’t forget the absinthe. Or the crantinis. Or the zinfandel."
Host of DiscDrive
CBC Radio 2
“Imagine, if you can, Stéphane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt returning from the grave to join a Deep Purple cover band gigging at a punk rock wedding and you might just get a whiff of the twisted miracle that is Van Django.
Host of Westcoast Music
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
"They have it all musicianship, musicality, humor and that swingin’ Django sound. Sit back , relax, and be transported to 1930’s Paris”
"Concertgoers felt they were just part of a friendly jam session Saturday night in Port Hardy. Jazz quartet Van Django gave the crowd an informal and fun musical history lesson on European jazz greats Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli. Much of the music had a gypsy feel, reflecting Reinhardt's Romany gypsy heritage. Django's Waltz particularly transported listeners to the firelight of a gypsy camp in France.
Van Django also played a number of swing jazz tunes, including Gershwins' I've Got Rhythm and Sonny Rollins' Pent Up House, inviting the audience to dance if desired. The talented Vancouver foursome, who had to compete at times with rain pounding on the Civic Centre roof, added a few of their own compositions to the program, reflecting their classical music backgrounds as well as a love of jazz and Reinhardt.
There is no denying the talent of these musicians who each have careers apart from Van Django. Violinist Cameron Wilson coaxed an amazing range and variety of sound from his instrument. Guitarist Budge Schachte seemed hardly able to contain his enthusiasm as his fingers flew up and down the frets, imitating with five fingers what Reinhardt accomplished with only three on his badly burned left hand. The eclectic Finn Maniche added some rock star moves to his guitar renditions. Impressive bass solos added depth to the other instruments. The concert was the last of six in the North Island Concert Society season."
North Island Gazette
"The Pacific Rim Summer Festival has a nice lineup of talent to see this month. Coming right up this Tuesday is Van Django, a quartette that plays gypsy jazz inspired by the legendary gypsy Frenchman, Django Reinhardt. Those who attended the marvelous Tango Paradiso concert last year will recognize that group’s gifted guitarist, Budge Schachte, in this group.
Django’s style of music with the Hot Club of France continues to inspire musicians. Woody Allen’s recent movie, Sweet And Lowdown, illustrated musicians in awe of Reinhardt whose career was at its peak during the ‘30s and ‘40s. As a young man, Django survived a fire in his caravan, but scarring left him with a badly damaged leg and two paralyzed fingers. He overcame the disability of his fretting hand by inventing an instrumental technique strictly his own. His international fame was built on his genius, blending jazz rhythms with traditional gypsy music. It’s irresistible.
When the organizers of the summer festival heard Van Django audition they said, “Gotta have them!” And you’ve gotta see them."
West Coast Showbiz
"...the evening's entertainment was polished, energetic and thoroughly enjoyable. The quartet was well prepared musically and presented informative, light-hearted and entertaining introductions to their songs and the to song's composer and history. The local Burns Lake audience was appreciative and enthusiastic during and after the evening, and we are still getting positive comments on the street two weeks after the event.
Budge, Cameron and crew were VERY generous with their time and attention to [the high school students who attended the concert], sitting down to show them guitar riffs and 'talk musical shop' for over half an hour after everyone else had gone home. Van Django also took time, before the concert, to have a look at, ask questions about and comment on a display of high school students' art work that was just outside the main doors of the hall! We were VERY impressed with them as musicians but also as people - good guys who play very good music, and we wish them every success."
for the Lakes District Arts Council
Burns Lake, BC