With his orchestra, French guitarist Benoit Viellefon enjoys a solid reputation in the British vintage jazz circuit for frantic music for swing dance balls. Live at the Quecumbar, his second album, captures the compelling sound of his more intimate Hot Club ensemble.
Recorded at prestigious gypsy jazz haunt Quecumbar in Battersea with two condenser microphones and no mixing, the release draws inspiration from the 1930s French jazz scene in form and content. Django Reinhardt features prominently in the setlist, with a clear influence on Viellefon’s three original tracks – Mon Amour, More Money and My Dog Is a Gypsy – elegant toe-tapping tunes driven by swift acoustic guitars. Similarly, the Club gives the gypsy swing treatment to American standards like All of Me and Caravan, stripped of Ellington’s erudite pretensions in the most danceable arrangement I’ve ever heard.
An often-overlooked classic, Whispering finds the sextet in terrific shape, alternating instruments with playful chemistry, framed by Peter Watson’s rapturous accordion. Watson’s rich melodies also set the mood for Flambée Montalbanaise and Coeur Vagabond, two bal musette classics in waltz time loaded with subdued pathos. On Reinhardt’s Daphne and Minor Swing, Pedro Velasco raises the guitar from rhythm to lead with sprightly solos.
Half of Live at the Quecumbar consists of instrumental tracks. On the other half, Viellefon’s vocals are quite uneven. The frontman sounds crisp and enthusiastic on It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing), Tes Yeux Noirs and Sheik of Araby (a hidden song at the end of the final track, featuring Arthur Foxaque from Top Shelf Jazz). Elsewhere, though, his unassuming demeanour and brief, soft-spoken murmurs vanish in the spirited charge of his troops.
Fans of vintage jazz will find all the uptempo tenacity from the Benoit Viellefon Hot Club concerts in this no-frills swinging release. Live at the Quecumbar is an absorbing hour of riveting rhythms and lingering melodies, catering both to serious lindy-hoppers and lounging flâneurs.
Live at the Quecumbar by Benoit Viellefon Hot Club. JohnJohn Records, 2012. £10 from www.benoitandhisorchestra.com
Photos courtesy of the performers