The epithet "flawless technique" does not even begin to describe Evan Christopher's manner of playing, perhaps, the most challenging reed instrument: the clarinet. His polished intonation is marked by the perfect annunciation of the notes that gush forth from his clarinet sometimes at great speed. His rhythmic attack is so full of surprise, especially when he injects elements of Brazilian and other Latin American colorings into the long, loping lines he plays. He has a spiritual connection with Django Reinhardt
and the Romani tradition of Europe, and it is as deep and enduring as the one he shares with George Lewis
, Barney Bigard
, and the magicians in the New Orleans Creole tradition. This is beautifully brought out in the swaggering glissandos and with tremulous wonder in the stately version of "Mood Indigo" that he and the quartet play on the memorable Finesse
, a joint release by lejazzetal and Fremeaux & Associates, in France.
It is Christopher's reverent sense of history that enables him to revisit the work of New Orleans' great legendary son, Sidney Bechet
. The album opens and closes with the great clarinetist's "Tropical Moon" and "Passaporte ao Paraìso." His rendition of Bix Beiderbecke
's bustling masterpiece, "Riverboat Shuffle," is a snorter. His own "Django à la Créole," which is based on Django's solos on "Improvisation No. 3 (Parts 1 and 2)," melded into Latin pieces played by that other master of the New Orleans idiom, Jelly Roll Morton
. This remains the centerpiece of this second memorable album that brings Gypsy music together with jazz from that charmed era, cooked in the place of its birth, New Orleans.
Throughout this magnificent album, Christopher's control over melodic content is matched by his inspired use of harmonic ingenuity. On songs such as "Finesse," "Féerie Eyes" and "Mood Indigo," it sometimes feels as if Christopher has a hidden reed in his clarinet, which enables him to create a harmonic force that adds density to the colors he is able to paint, from a palette already rich in hues from the luscious tones that he is able to draw out of his beautiful woodwind instrument. Christopher's genius emerges further as he fuses together musical idioms from the Caribbean, Brazil and Cuba into the Creole world of New Orleans with rare finesse and charm; more than that, it's the clarinetist's ability to create all this in an environment that is at once reverential as well as completely new and timeless, so that it appears wholly new.
Christopher's mission is enhanced by the accompaniment on his journey from three other musicians equally passionate about the roots of swing: guitarists Dave Kelbie, who has almost single-handedly kept the flame of Gypsy music burning brightlynot only in Europe, but also in the rest of the worldand the talented David Blenkhorn, who plays his Django-like role to perfection throughout; and the remarkable bassist Sébastien Giradot, who contributes more than solid rhythmic accompaniment, brilliantly showcased on the spectacular title tune of this album of rare beauty.