Modern Hot Records
|Ç'est si bon, Pearl Django front man Neil Andersson's bittersweet solo outing, manages something unique, namely building a swaying suspension bridge between the Jazz idioms, American and French respectively, of Blues Swing as epitomized by the mid-50's giant Charlie Christian who influenced Wes Montgomery and George Benson as well as Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel and Tiny Grimes, and Django Reinhardt on the other side of the pond who, to this day, remains one of the most recorded guitarists ever and whose later albums envisaged Bop.
Rick Leppanen, Pearl Django's bass anchor, joins his teammate here, with the surprise but deftly fitting guest artists vibe gal Susan Pascal and keyboardist Michael Jaap while Chris Monroe sits in on drums. As Just Jazz Guitar's Ted Gottsegen rightly belabors in the liner notes, the Jazz Manouche or Gipsy Swing "kiss-of-death label" often obscures the fact that Reinhardt's style was legitimate Jazz, period. Hence one should expect it to morph into modern offshoots, cross-pollinate and invite experimentation rather than remain freeze-framed in the post-war past.
Ç'est si bon is that, exactly, a charming tendril off the chief highway, a solid branch off the main trunk, a classy intersection where just-Jazz piano and juicy vibraphone swirl 'round lyrically dreamy as well as fast-running angular guitar that manages to pay respect to such late-Django numbers as "Nuits de Saint Germaine des Prés" and "Flèche d'or" while simultaneously presenting original pieces that span the gamut from tender Blues to more agitated, less structured numbers. There's even a straight Swing chaser like "Douce ambiance" thrown in for good measure, to hint at Benny Goodman and Lionel Hampton's stompin' vibraphone now under the capable mallets of Susan Pascal.
Even Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust" is visited, opening recognizably laid-back and wistful before kicking into double time to become the backbone for elastic electric guitar swing, with Henri Betti's "Ç'est si bon" lending not just the album's title but another opportunity to replace the obligatory rhythm guitar with keyboard and vibes. A finely wrought album, this is essential feel-good music. Its majority of mid-tempo sets nicely avoids the pressure cooker intensity of overtly virtuoso takes to invite contemplation of times less hasty. It thus slows you down by osmosis, has you settle in, unbutton your shirt, lift your feet onto an ottoman, stay for a while and sink into an atmosphere of tenderness and easy charms.
This isn't Jazz for the hard-boiled speed freak aficionados, abstract and mental and difficult to warm up to, but easily listening Jazz in the truest and best sense - not dumbed down and washed out for rush-hour commuter broadcasts, but lighthearted yet sophisticated. That makes it smooth alright but otherwise bears no semblance whatever to that dreaded category. Or, to take the easy and most obvious way out, the album title, really, says it all. Oui, this is very good.
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