Baltimore Bands Go On The Road With A New Generation Of Gypsy Jazz


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Popular Charm City guitarist and bandleader Michael Joseph Harris is taking his role as a musical ambassador to a new level with the 2016 release of two new Gypsy Jazz albums and a summer concert tour of over two dozen American cities.

The album Coquette was recorded by his group Hot Club of Baltimore, focusing on the repertoire of legendary Belgian born French guitarist Django Reinhardt. Reinhardt famously perfected a Roma swing style in the 1930s and 40s recognized to this day by millions of music lovers.

On this, Hot Club’s second album, listeners will hear songs such as lighthearted, playful title tune “Coquette.” Essential to the Django repertoire, it’s become a popular jam song at numerous Django jazz festivals. This album version features violin, clarinet, and two guitar solos performed on vintage French gypsy jazz guitars; a 1940's Selmer for Michael Harris and a DiMauro for guitarist Sami Arefin. In contrast, “Lover Man,” on the fourth track, is a beautiful ballad from the Django songbook given a simple treatment in which Harris’s lead guitar work is complemented by Eddie Hrybyk on bass.

Harris, who studied jazz at North Texas State University, originally focused his DC-area career on Cuban and Brazilian styles with the hard-gigging Washington, D.C. based Bossalingo band. He formed Hot Club in 2012, but doesn’t consider the leap in genres a wide one: ”I love the way Jazz energizes me and makes me want to move,” he says. “That’s probably why I played Cuban and Brazilian-inspired music for so long. I really like the effect swing has on people, and I enjoy all of the syncopation within the swing feel.”

Hot Club has played a steady stream of concerts and earned abundant press. Says Tom Cole of Pacifica Radio’s WPFW, “These folks can handle the complexities and breakneck speeds of Roma swing. In 2016, we can come close to the experience of what it must have been like to hear Django Reinhardt play... in 1937.” The success of that ensemble led Harris to form a related combo in 2013 to bring contemporary Gypsy Jazz to a new generation of listeners.

Known as Ultrafaux, his second group enlists core Hot Club members bassist Ed Hyrbyk and rhythm guitarist Sami Arefin. As Ultrafaux, the trio shape-shifts to perform original music composed by Michael Joseph Harris rooted in the Jazz manouche style. Quirky compositions with mirthful names and effective hooks quickly turn listeners into fans.

Appropriately named Deuxieme, the new Ultrafaux album features tunes such as “Zazzous Swing,” which takes the listener to the streets of Paris in wartime 1940's when the “Zazous" swing kids danced after curfew to express their independence under the Nazi occupation.

“La valse de la folie” is a more complex offering—a modern take on the traditional Roma waltz. The melody cascades between minor and major keys, giving it a contemporary feel. Translated in English as “Madness Waltz,” the tune has peaks and valleys of tension and release throughout.

WTMD radio’s Sam Sessa is a fan of the new sound: “Ultrafaux breathes new life into jazz, while holding onto the sense of nostalgia that makes this genre so timeless and appealing in the first place.” Harris says Deuxieme is his favorite recording to date. “My guitar technique really took a leap forward with that disc,” he says. “I have been working on a new way of picking, more like what Django Reinhardt would have used back in the day.”

Venue hosts sometimes select one group or the other, but on many of these tour dates, Ultrafaux performs for one set and Hot Club for another, allowing fans to see two sides of the same coin. Vocalist Alexis Tantau from California performs on the latest Hot Club album and shares some summer tour dates with both bands. A popular YouTube video captures both groups in concert with Alexis at the mike. Wesley Case features the group in a February 2016 article in the Baltimore Sun about the Charm City Django Jazz Fest at the Creative Alliance. The annual event is was founded by Michael Joseph Harris.

The tour begins in Maryland and moves on to New York City and Virginia before the trio makes their annual excursion to Northampton, Massachusetts to attend the Django in June festival. Guitarist Sami Arefin will coach beginning jam sessions while other members use the time to sharpen their axes and soak up new knowledge before the next leg of the tour.

Hot Club and Ultrafaux then play a dozen West Coast dates, mostly in California. The Left Coast leg of the tour ends at the Grass Valley ranch where singer Alexis Tantau was raised. The musicians return to Baltimore with a date at Little Italy jazz supper club Germano's. After a brief hiatus in August, they’ll rally for more concerts and festivals such as Wisconsin’s Midwest Gypsy Swing Festival September 10 and Maine’s Django by the Sea on October 8.

Music for Coquette from Hot Club of Baltimore and Deuxieme by Ultrafaux are available from bandcamp.com. Look for information and tour dates on Jazz Near You and Jazz Beyond Borders.com.

East Coast Dates

May 26: Charlottesville, VA, The Garage- Ultrafaux & Hot Club of Baltimore
May 27: Appomattox, VA, Baines Books & Coffee- Ultrafaux
June 2: Hydes, MD, Boordy Winery- Hot Club of Baltimore
June 5: Baltimore, MD, Germano's- Hot Club of Baltimore “Guitar Legends Brunch"
June 12: Manhattan, NY, Cornelia Street Cafe- Ultrafaux
June 13: 18 Northampton, MA, Band attends Django in June workshops
June 23: Towson, Orchard Market & Cafe- Ultrafaux
June 30: Baltimore, MD, An die Musik Live- Hot Club of Baltimore “Django in Rome" with Alexis Tantau
July 8: Baltimore, MD, Mobtown Ballroom-Hot Club of Baltimore Django Big Band with Alexis Tantau
July 13: Greenbelt, MD, New Deal Cafe- Ultrafaux

Summer West Coast Dates

July 15: San Francisco, CA, Red Poppy Art House- Ultrafaux & Hot Club of Baltimore with Alexis Tantau & guest Rob Reich of Gaucho
July 16: Berkeley, CA, La Peña Cultural Center- Ultrafaux & Barrio Manouche
July 17: Napa, CA, Silo's Jazz Club- Hot Club of Baltimore with Alexis Tantau
July 21: San Francisco, CA, Doc's Lab- Ultrafaux & Gaucho
July 22: St. Helena, CA, Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch- Ultrafaux
July 23: Sausalito, CA, Osteria DiVino- Hot Club of Baltimore with Alexis Tantau
July 24: Santa Cruz, CA, Don Quixote's International Music Hall- Hot Club of Baltimore withAlexis Tantau + Jimmy Grant Ensemble
July 29: Reno, NV, Studio on 4th- Ultrafaux & Hot Club of Baltimore with Alexis Tantau
July 30: Grass Valley, CA, The Open Book Music Hall- Ultrafaux & Hot Club of Baltimore with Alexis Tantau
July 31: Plumas, CA, Tantau Ranch- Hot Club of Baltimore with Alexis Tantau “Final Left Coast Show"
August 5: 
 Baltimore, MD, Germano's Trattoria- 
Hot Club of Baltimore’s Welcome Home Concert “Ellington meets Django"

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