In an age where we really don’t feel we can trust our senses anymore – Photoshop tricks our eyes, Pro-Tools and AutoTune bamboozle our ears – it is no surprise that music fans are turning to more acoustic, rootsier forms of music for a thrill that can only be enjoyed first hand. The less production steps between the musician’s instrument and our minds/hearts, often the better. The recent resurgence of Gadjo (or Manouche) music – Gypsy Jazz, mon ami! ­– is one example where intimacy and immediacy pay off in spades, emotionally and viscerally.

The trade-off of course is that there is little or no studio retouching required or even desired – the artist has to get it right, in the moment, to capture all the charm and life in the music as it rushes by. And with a music as technicially demanding and virtuosic as Manouche Jazz it is a rare artist that can pull it off with a (gallic) smile on his face.

Sydney’s Gadjo Guitars feature well-known Sydney virtuoso Nigel Date who has made jaws drop for a while now whenever he plays a solo or duo show. Nigel is joined by Jose Zarb and Cameron Jones – all three playing the peculiar wide-mouth manouche guitar. Their debut album is called L’Amour En Douce and it is a gem, containing all the charm and artistry that this French form of jazz is known for.

The towering figure of Manouche Jazz (and French jazz in general) is Django Reinhardt – an illiterate gypsy with a damaged fretting hand who made everyone who ever heard him sit up and take notice. The GGs open with Django’s ‘Douche Ambience’ and pepper the repetoire with his classics – ‘Nuages’, ‘Djangology’ and a particularly spry take on Django’s ‘Dinette’. Standards such as ‘Le Feuilles Mortes’ (known outside of Montmartre cafés as ‘Autumn Leaves’) and ‘Summertime’ are there but tastily arranged and used as musical material for the three guitarists to have some good Gadjo fun with.

What Stan Valacos and Nigel Date’s production has got so right with this is they have retained a very ‘live’ feeling to the performances. Each of the cuts feels nice and immediate – string squeaks, a couple of almost-flubbed notes and some slightly ragged endings are all included. Over-production such as reverb and extensive EQ or compression are eschewed in favour of immediacy. The vibe very much reminds me of The Pizza Tapes of a few years back – the LP The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia made with bluegrass buddies Dave Grisman and Tony Rice. A very different style but just the same afternoon haze – three friends getting together to make some music; it could be in your lounge room.

The rhythm-guitars chop away with a grinning swing as the melodies and solos are passed around between Date, Zarb and Jones. The whole thing has a real feeling of joie d’vivre to it. This music is irresistible and holds enough dazzling virtuosic runs and effects – check out the chiming harmonics in Django’s ‘Sweet Chorus’ – to keep the guitar-freaks out there happy (and practicing). I know I am.

L’Amour En Douce is available through the Gadjo Guitars’ website http://gadjoguitars.com

Published March 2012 on http://www.jazzandbeyond.com.au/

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