Review by J Hunter
Hot Club of San Francisco lead guitarist/founder Paul Mehling freely admits he is obsessed with Django Reinhart. He’s been this way since he first heard the jazz icon’s Quintet of the Hot Club of France in his early teens, and when Mehling couldn’t find musicians in the Bay Area who shared his obsession, he gathered musicians together and taught them how to play this music. Now 22 years later, Hot Club SF is the most detailed tribute to Reinhart’s genius on the menu today – and, as it turned out while watching them play Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, that’s a double-edged sword.
In recent years, Greater Nippertown’s been lucky enough to get tasty slices of Django from Stephane Wremble, James Carter and Frank Vignola, but that was primarily in transmitted through those artists’ own performance matrix. From the uptempo opening number “Peche a la Mouche” to the darkly romantic closer “Not Too Fast, Because I’m Struggling with the Green Tango” (Hey, don’t blame me – it’s Paolo Conte’s title), all we needed to get a complete taste of Reinhart’s time was if the TSBMH staff started pumping cigarette smoke into the Hall.
Hot Club SF uses two rhythm guitarists to keep the foundation “because that’s how Django did it,” and while it may have been hyperbole when Mehling called Isabelle Fontaine and Jeff Magidson “the best in the world,” they worked expertly with bassist Sam Rocha to maintain both the direction of every song and the intimacy of the overall performance. Reinhart’s music comes from an acoustic heart, so drums have no place at this table.