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Home Arts and Culture  Beyond frappe: Hot Club of Detroit
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Tuesday, August 11,2009

Beyond frappe: Hot Club of Detroit

by Lawrence Cosentino
The Hot Club of Detroit could have been the jazz equivalent of a red button on a blender. You’d throw in anything from a Miles have deep ties to the Capital City. Funky R&B crowd-pleaser Tim Cunningham was born and raised in Lansing. World-renowned bassist and Professor of Jazz Rodney Whitaker made his home here a decade ago. The Gypsy caravan Hot Club of Detroit and straightahead trumpeter John Douglas are fixtures of the Motor City. Davis tune to the “Godfather” theme and VREEEEE, the music would come out chopped into the “chunk, chunk, chunk” rhythm of Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and his Hot Club of France.

As pre-set buttons go, you could press a worse one than Paris in the 1930s, but audiences and critics would have gotten bored with the Hot Club long ago if they churned everything into the same frappe.

On the contrary, since guitarist Evan Perri founded the Hot stantly on alert for new material Club in 2003, the group has won a slew of Detroit jazz awards, created its own club scene in Detroit, expanded its touring radius through the Midwest and landed a deal with prestigious Mack Avenue Records.


They’ve done it by keeping the crowd-pleasing Django jangle, anchored by Perri and rhythm guitarist Paul Brady, but folding in elements of modern jazz, including bebop, and adding surprising choices to the set list, supplementing Django’s classic tunes. (Yes, that includes Miles Davis’ “Seven Steps to Heaven” and “The Godfather,” both of which get fresh takes in the Hot Club’s hot hands.)

“The possibilities are really endless,” Brady said. “You can take it as far out as you want, or you can play it very traditional.”

East Lansing High School teacher David Rosin is a go-to replacement for the group’s regular bassist, Shannon Wade, and he will play with Perri and crew Saturday.

“I have a blast playing with them,” Rosin said. “There’s not a lot of people playing this style of music. It’s highly energetic and the instrumentation is really cool, with the strings and accordion. It’s not your standard jazz quartet.”

Hearing “Honeysuckle Rose” played live, with the joy and intricacy of Django’s original Hot Club, is a high that never gets old, but Hot Club members are constantly on alert for new material to Django-ize. As I spoke to Brady on the phone, he was getting incoming email from Perri. “He’s sending me tracks from Phish to listen to,” Brady said without dry humor. “We might possibly try to put the Gypsy stamp on that.”

The recent addition of sax-man Carl Cafagna, a familiar fixture in mid-Michigan, has helped push the Hot Club’s sound further out. Cafagna can tickle a crowd with old-school Sidney Bechet tootling one minute, then tear it up and down like John Coltrane the next. He might slip in a Charlie Parker riff so seamlessly the effect is subliminal, and you think: Did I just hear what I thought I heard?

“He’s good at hinting at contemporary things,” Rosin said.

Somehow, the time-warp polystylism comes out sounding natural. To Brady, that’s because “Gypsy jazz” isn’t as specialized a niche as it seems.

“The way we approach it, you have your solid foundation of rhythm and groove,” he said. “On top of that you can be very free.”

In jazz old or new, Brady said, that approach is close to universal.

“That was some of the advice Miles Davis gave to John Coltrane,” Brady said. “Anchor your group with your rhythm section, and take it out from there.”

Rosin put it another way. “These guys get to strummin’ away, and it’s a blast,” he said.

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