Hot Strings

Douce Ambiance

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This is a CD reissue of Hot Strings before they were writing their own material. There are two originals here, and the rest are standards from the hot swing catalog, or gypsy jazz if you prefer. The Swiss quartet recorded this back in 1990 and it serves as their debut album proper. While it holds the same promise their other recordings do, it's obvious that they haven't found the comfort factor yet; they are still too reverent and locked into the grooves established by their idols, such as Django Reinhardt (there are seven Reinhardt tunes here), Stephane Grappelli, Sidney Bechet, and others. The musicianship is top-notch; these cats have the changes and the nuances down, but it's clearly audible that they haven't mastered the recording studio yet. There is a hesitancy and reverence in the playing that keeps it from the burning heat of their later discs. Nonetheless, it's still better than virtually any of the American groups -- with the exception of Michigan's Summers, Delany, and Sharp -- who attempt this same genre with either a snigger or by emulating the fashions of the time rather than the building on the music. There are a few notable tracks, such as the read of "Minor Swing" and Bechet's "Petit Fleur." The two originals here -- guitarist Fere Schiedegger's "Dodo," with its mournful harmonica intro and bluesed-out feel in the guitar shapes that are highlighted by Martin Abrühl's violin solo, and Abrühl's own "La Grande Mer," with its flamenco traces and tango figures before it becomes an easy stroll in minor-key swing -- are very fine and may be the best things here. In any case, the story on these cats is that they got so much better it's hard to believe they're the same band.

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