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John Jorgenson’s Gypsy Jazz Quintet: Phoenix, AZ, June 27, 2013

Patricia Myers By

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John Jorgenson's Gypsy Jazz Quintet
Musical Instrument Museum
Phoenix, AZ
June 27, 2013

The swinging sound of gypsy jazz popularized by Django Reinhardt and the Quintet of the Hot Club of France was elegantly interpreted by John Jorgenson in a quintet setting that imbued the 1930s genre with modernistic verve.

The program was a mix of soulful romance and gleeful flamboyance, plaintive sadness and rollicking celebration, with Jorgenson's fingers a blur that created avalanches of notes and chords. His dazzling prowess often caused listeners to gasp at the speed and sound. His three- and four-note voicings, blazing arpeggios and syncopated upward strokes richly reflected Reinhardt's unique playing style.

Jorgenson also conquered the complexity of a Greek bouzouki's three pairs of strings on "One Stolen Night," from his 2010 Pharoah Records album of the same name. He played clarinet on the Klezmer-ish "Souvenirs des Nos Peres" and employed solo guitar for an excerpt from Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. He sang a few songs, too, but none of this seemed as if he was showing off—just loving the music he was performing.

The ensemble was a tight team, with violinist Jason Anick and acoustic bassist Simon Planting in dominant roles to enhance Jorgenson's amplified acoustic guitar. Although it was surprising to see a percussionist with what is usually an all-string ensemble, Rick Reed provided a solid foundation with selective restraint, playing only brushes on a snare and two cymbals. Even more surprising, the requisite gypsy jazz rhythm guitarist was absent; instead, pianist John Jarvis—a longtime session musician for rock and country albums— delivered fiery solos and inventive chord changes to accent and enhance the string maneuvers.

Among the many peaks of the evening was a guitar-violin duet, Jorgenson striking left- hand tonics on the fret bar against his right-hand picking for "Smoldering Ashes," from Franco-American Swing (JJ Records, 2004). Another audience pleaser was "Ghost Dance," an impossibly fast, ear-boggling original that went viral on YouTube last year:



The classic World War II Reinhardt instrumental, "Nuages," was delivered with warm sensitivity for the perfect closing selection.

Jorgenson is a master of the flat-picking style of jazz manouche still being played in 21st Century Paris. In 2004, he was even chosen to portray Reinhardt in the feature film Head in the Clouds, starring Charlize Theron.

He formed his gypsy jazz combo in 2004 and recorded Franco-American Swing (Pharaoh Records, 2004), Ultraspontane (Pharaoh Records/J2 Records, 2007), One Stolen Night and Istiqbal Gathering (Pharaoh Records/J2 Records, 2010). But his first release in that genre dates back to 1988 with the LP After You've Gone (Curb Records).

Renowned for decades in the pop, country, and rock world, Jorgenson is a three-time winner of the Academy of Country Music award for Guitarist of the Year. Jorgenson fits the epithet of "guitar virtuoso," having toured for six years with Elton John and, in between, recorded with Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Roy Oribson, Barbra Streisand...and even Luciano Pavorotti.

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