CD Review: Hot Club of San Francisco - Bohemian Maestro

gitpickergitpicker Beijing/San Francisco✭✭✭✭ Gibson, Favino, Eastman
edited February 2009 in CD, DVD, and Concert Reviews Posts: 213
Actually the title of the disc is:
Bohemian Maestro: Django Reinhardt and the Impressionists

I couldn't fit the whole name in the title bar. I am listening to this album as I write to you via Shanghai! I just returned from San Francisco and I wanted to let folks know what a truly fantastic CD this is.

I cannot hold a flame to Monterey Jack's review of this disc on his site: ( but I thought I'd do a short review to let folks know about it here too because this is a fantastic album that is worthy of exposure.

The HCSF is headed by Paul Mehling (guitar), and also includes Evan Price (violin), Jason Vanderford (rhythm guitar) Jeff Madgison (rythm guitar) and Clint Baker (bass). On this album you'll also hear the welcome addition of special guests pianist Jeffrey Kahane as well as the Aeros wind quintet ( on select tracks.

When I talked to Paul Mehling last year about this album as it was in the works he was telling me that the Hot Club wanted to do an album that was part swing, part classical album and partly a reflection of music that Django would have been exposed to and heard and influenced by during his life in Paris. This concept in addition to recording some of the more obscure Django pieces sounded really interesting at the time and I couldn't think of any other album that took on this idea.

You can find all the mentioned elements and more in the CD. Swing among the Hot Club's original compositions such as Mehling's up tempo opener Le Sourdoe and Even Price's swinging original Le Jongleur as well as Django's uptempo Vendredi 13 and Diminishing Blackness which also feature pianist Jeffrey Kahane. These guys are just burning on Vendredi 13!

On the more classical side you'll find a FANTASTIC arrangement of Django's Mass for the Romany people beautifully arranged by Evan Price for wind quintet performed by the Aeros Quintet. ALL fans of Django NED to hear this! This is actually a medley as the mass then goes into Django's Improvisation #1 done collectivelly by Mehling's guitar with the Aeros quintet. Brilliant!

Further examples of classical influence are shown by Hot Club's full band arrangement of Django's Improvisation #3. Ending the album is the meloncholy duo of Mehling's guitar and Price's violin doing Claude Debussy's Claire de Lune.

Additional gems to the album showcase Mehling's banjo on Jelly Roll Morton's The Pearls, Evan Price playing saw on Mehling's Waltz for MC Escher. You'll find latin rhythms on Hot Club's rendition of Choro by Hector Villa Lobos as well as Django's Bolero (not troublant bolero - do your homework!) and the whold game jamming HARD on George Brassen's Les Copanins D'abord, being the only non period composition on the album.

All in all I highly recommend this album as it showcases some of Django's less often played compositions as well as fantastic originals and brilliant arrangements. The arrangement of the Mass?Improvisation #1 and Improvisation #3 alone make the album worth it in my opinion. Do yourself a favor and check this out because this is one of the few gypsy jazz albums I've heard in a LONG time that made me think, "wow this is really fresh and different". The recording quality is fabulous as well.

It's not on cdbaby yet but should be soon. In the meantime you can find more info at

Just a disclaimer also, though I'm from San Francisco, I don't play in the HCSF. I don't benefit personally by asking people to check this music out. I just really think this album is a fantastic piece of work and art should be shared so I encourage anybody to check this out!

Live life and play music like it's your last day on earth. One day you'll be right- Russel Malone


  • gitpickergitpicker Beijing/San Francisco✭✭✭✭ Gibson, Favino, Eastman
    Posts: 213
    Jack I hope you don't mind I put your review here as well because you did such a great job. It's ok?? - Doug :oops:

    "Bohemian Maestro: Django Reinhardt and the Impressionists"

    I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the new CD by The Hot Club of San Francisco, "Bohemian Maestro: Django Reinhardt and the Impressionists," is possibly the most important Gypsy Swing release of 2008, if not the last several years.

    My Gypsy Swing collection presently hovers around 400 CDs. I have purchased CD's from almost everybody that has one... Many are awesome: for instance, Bireli's "Gypsy Project" CD's are without peer. Selmer 607 and Frederick Belinky's "Gypsy Instinct" are practically permanently glued into my car's CD changer. Some are are very fun, like those by Orkest Polytour and Sanseverino. The consequence, however, of having collected so many CD's is that I have approximately 50 recorded versions of "Minor Swing," 23 versions of "Limehouse Blues," 20 versions of "All of Me," 15 versions of "Bossa Dorado," and... well, you get the picture.

    Some CD's display dazzling virtuosity, but stick to the same old jam session repertoire. Some CD's have really cool arrangements, but suffer for other reasons. Some CD's seem to suffer from a total lack of direction, inspiration or production as though the band members said "Well boys, we've been together for two years! Time to go into the studio..." Consequently, they paid for good studio time, just to record a jam session.

    So, what makes "Bohemian Maestro" shine so brightly in my collection? Simple. It has everything: challenging tunes, cool arrangements, refreshing use of instruments that are not often heard in Gypsy Swing, and... mystery.

    Lets address repertoire first: "Bohemian Maestro" features a very cool selection of original compositions, mixed with pieces by Django Reinhardt, Claude Debussy, Jelly Roll Morton, Villa-Lobos, and Brassens to name a few. You may say, "Hold on a moment! What is so original about including tunes by Reinhardt on a Gypsy Swing CD?" Very true, except that Paul Mehling, Evan Price and Company have actually dared to present Django's "Messe." In nearly 4000 Gypsy Swing tunes, I could not find ONE other version. They also record Django's "Bolero. " Oh, not the oft recorded "Troublant Bolero," ( I have about 15 versions of that!) No, they attack Django's very impressionistic, Debussy-esque 1936 recording. They also are the only Gypsy Swing band to cover Django's "Nympháes." Many tunes have been totally reworked and arranged by two-time Grammy winning violinist, Evan Price. His treatment of "Messe" is simply spellbinding. His version Debussy's "Clair De Lune," is worth the price of admission.

    Now let's talk about virtuosity and instrumentation. Guitarist Paul Mehling, an inarguable master of Gyspy Swing, reinvents himself here as a soloist on Poulenc's Waltz "Les Chemins de L'Amour," Villa-Lobos' "Choros," and Django's "Improvisation #3." Evan Price's swinging composition, "Le Jongleur" brings Mehling's style back into the more familiar Gypsy Swing Genre, while trading licks with Price's perfect phrasing, tone and almost understated lines. The Hot Club of San Francisco sports one of the bounciest, swingiest rhythm sections in the hands of guitarists Jason Vanderford and Jeff Magison and bassist Clint Baker. This CD features more than the typical three guitars, violin and bass. Paul Mehling plays banjo on Jellyroll's "Pearls", and Evan Price plays a saw! We are also treated to The Aeros Quintet ( on "Nymphéas," and Pianist Jeffrey Kahane on Django's "Diminishing Blackness" and "Vendredi 13." "Diminishing" features some really cool "outside" jazz solo work that will turn the head of even the most discriminating bop fan. This is juxtaposed by what is possibly "Hottest" recording of "Vendredi 13" that is very reminiscent of the American Hot Jazz bands of the late 20's and 30's, only without the clicks, hisses and pops of old wax...

    "Okay, we got it Jack! But, how does one put "mystery" into a CD?" The mystery surrounds an enigmatic mural painted in San Francisco in 1936. The mural clearly shows a man who looks very much like Django Reinhardt (right down to the fingers) giving a lesson to a young lady holding a guitar with an oval hole. No documentation exists about the mural, but it was painted at a time when Django Reinhardt would have been relatively unknown in the United States (but, was a rising star everywhere else...) So, is it Django? No one knows for sure. It's a mystery.

    The only criticism that I have of this CD is that, to my ears, it seems to have been engineered in a way that does not really shine on small speakers, like those on a computer or an iPod. That is okay, though, because this is music that is best enjoyed with friends in the open air. In the month and half that I've had it it, it has very much become the "soundtrack" in my house. I'm sure it will in yours, too.

    Band information:

    Posted by montereyjacques at 09:53 PM
    Live life and play music like it's your last day on earth. One day you'll be right- Russel Malone
  • FopaFopa San FranciscoNew
    Posts: 125
    I got to listen to a freinds copy of this album the other day. Fantastic cd. I hope Michael will be selling it on his site.
  • The LosThe Los San DiegoNew
    Posts: 71
    I was lucky enough to catch the Hot Club SF at Yoshi's San Francisco when they were promoting this CD. I've known Paul for some time and have come to always expected a good show but this collection of music completely blew me away. The duet arrangement of Claire de Lune brought me close to tears (seriously, I have no shame in admitting this). It goes without saying the crowd was brought to their feet.

    My hat is off to Paul; a great musician, teacher, and an inspiration to us all. Thank you for continuing to create such soulful and beautiful music.
  • Bob HoloBob Holo Moderator
    Posts: 1,252
    I'm glad to hear it's out - what a banner year for CDs. 2008 was very strong and it looks like 2009 will be too.

    I love Paul's playing - his tone is amazing because he pays attention to the right & left hand nuances and is one of the few guitarists today who is willing to slow down and build suspense. Believe me - I love a cookin' tune and a blazin solo... I really do - but it's oh so nice to hear, for instance, HCSF play Choro. He builds suspense - then makes you fall into each successive phrase - holding out just enough to make you want the next note - to need it. My brother, a jazz musician since the 70's, once turned to me in a music store several years ago and said: "Hey Bob, do you want to know how to drive a room full of musicians absolutely crazy?" Then he went over to a piano and played a nice chorus - built right up to the end ... and then stopped ... didn't resolve it... left it hanging just on the edge of the resolution. Sure enough, a few heads in the room turned - waiting... nothing... he walked away from the piano. You could feel eyes burning holes in the back of his head as we walked out of the store. That is what Paul understands about this music. It's not about the fire flying from your fingertips - it's about being able to hold the audience. It's about making them want the next note - want the next song - and want the next CD. The suspense and romance in this music is palpable, and musicians who realize that and can bring it out without teetering into maudlin produce powerful work.
    You get one chance to enjoy this day, but if you're doing it right, that's enough.
  • gitpickergitpicker Beijing/San Francisco✭✭✭✭ Gibson, Favino, Eastman
    Posts: 213
    Bob take another chorus man that was beautiful writing! :D
    Live life and play music like it's your last day on earth. One day you'll be right- Russel Malone
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