Concert Review: Hot Club of Saratoga @ Jazz on Jay, 08/03/2023
It the old-fashioned – 1930s – monicker Hot Club of Saratoga conjures visions of cute musical antiques, some of what they played Thursday at Jazz on Jay had that lighter than air, angst-free fun thing of black-and-white movies, the scent of martinis and zippy, intricate playing.
But, to their credit, much of what they played – well and with spunky spirit – boasted a somewhat more modern approach without damaging the early-jazz roots that make it so inviting. In other words, they had and gave fun without goofing on it or camping it up. Despite its sometimes intricate density, it never felt too perfectionist to swing.
They started, out of period, with Glenn Miller’s 1944 “String Of Pearls,” made a decade later than the heyday of Django Reinhardt’s Quintet of the Hot Club of France. However, they grafted a Django-like speed up to this dance floor dazzler.
Just as often, they infiltrated Django-era tunes with modern harmonic and rhythmic innovations. “String” had some of that, a sneaky minor chord, and the next number, “Istanbul Not Constantinople,” messed around with the beat. A nervous guitar obbligato skittered along at double time before a speed-up that got everybody on the same tempo then crashed to a hard-stop close. Jonathan Greene’s clarinet meshed with Tucker Callander’s violin here, tight as Oliver Hardy’s belt.
“Moonglow” was all mellow ease, Greene going quietly lyrical in his solo and bassist Dylan Perillo singing right in the pocket. Then, it was full caffeine in “Dinah,” launching, like “Istanbul,” from a cozy start to a rambunctious ride.
Both Perillo and Callander sang in “Bei Mir Bist Du Shein” and in English and German, again accelerating from a mellow mood to a pulse-pushing tempo. This one felt especially interactive, Perillo’s bass taking a stroll with the guitars of Chuck Kish, chopping rhythm chords, and Brad Brose, adding single-note zip; then Greene and Callander swapping fours at the coda.
While Brose soloed less than Greene or Callander, he always made the most of his brief bits of the spotlight in little jewels of heads-up imagination and pristine picking. An ace accompanist, he underlined others’ parts with dramatic Django-like fast chord bursts.
A non-Django gypsy jazz favorite by Oscar Aleman, “Hombre Mio” cast a spell of mellow sweetness, Greene’s clarinet solo shining through the groove.
“Snowfall” emphasized the groove in a highly rhythmic arrangement. Claude Thornhill’s spry riff tune is a favorite of players as disparate as our late great piano-jazz giant Lee Shaw and omni-pop rockers NRBQ, a beat-popping delight on Thursday.
The waltz “Chez Jaquette” projected a wry wit in a sparse trio arrangement, Brose’s guitar fireworks accompanied only by Kish’s rhythm guitar and Perillo’s bass.
Perillo drew laughs on the bandstand by imitating Louis Armstrong’s distinctive vocal phrasing in “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans” after his own slow bass intro. Forgetting a lyric a few verses later didn’t dent the band’s momentum or the crowd’s enjoyment. Brose really ripped in a late solo here. A few songs later, in “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” he and Callander both broke the speed limit in this familiar mid-tempo classic; Callander also sang here, and the band gave this a poignant slow coda,
Django’s “Douce Ambiance” earned its title – a sweet atmosphere on a cruise back in time, with a stop-and-go cadence everybody nailed.
Kish offered a brief bio of Django Reinhardt, explaining why the short-lived singular guitarist was so special despite a hand injury and suggesting his tunes offered an excuse to jam. Kish dubbed the original Hot Club the first jam band, then proved it in “Minor Swing,” a harmonic and rhythmic cousin to “Istanbul,” and a showcase for unison swing segments and free-form solos.
“Until The Real Thing Comes Along” cruised on its unison passages, though Perillo injected a stutter into his vocal and then played his best solo of the show before Callander and Brose ignited a fiery duet.
They revved and wrapped up with “Tiger Rag,” starting fast and all in before Greene and Callander soloed in a fiery upshift that spurred everybody into full flight.
The crowd caught the melodic uplift of this venerable-but-somehow-still-fresh music.
Here and there, people jumped up from lawn- and camp-chairs to dance in happy islands amid a big throng, uninterrupted by lunch-seekers strolling through the Jay Street pedestrian marketplace.
Jazz on Jay continues with bossa nova-influenced Sonny and Perley and their quartet on Thursday, Aug. 10.