Tag Archives: James Birkett

JAMES BIRKETT AND EMMA FISK PLAY VENUTI AND LANG, WITH GREAT AFFECTION AND EXPERTISE

The back covers of the long-playing records of my youth often were adorned with thumbnail photographs of other record covers, and this solicitation, “If you’ve enjoyed this LONG PLAY record, you’ll be sure to enjoy . . . .”

If you savor beautifully recorded chamber jazz, swinging yet leisurely, you’ll be sure to enjoy the new CD by guitarist James Birkett and violinist Emma Fisk, devoted to the music of Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang.

Since Eddie’s death in 1933, there have been many attempts to recreate the magic the two Italian boys from Philadelphia created: Venuti himself always looked for guitarists who could come close to Eddie’s splendors: Dick McDonough, Frank Victor, Tony Romano, Bucky Pizzarelli, Carl Kress, Perry Botkin, Bobby Sherwood, George Barnes, Tony Gottuso, Danny Perri, Barney Kessel, Lino Patruno attempted to fill that role on record dates and more.

As I write this, Nick Rossi, Kris Tokarski, and Glenn Crytzer are involved in similar small group projects, and I know I am leaving someone out.  Matt Munisteri does a peerless Lang behind John Gill’s Bing.  Martin Wheatley and Spats Langham both understand him deeply.

Venuti was a hard act to follow — I am leaving aside the sometimes cruel practical jokes — but he was often in love with speed and execution, and many violinists have tried to out-Joe Joe, playing his intricate originals faster and faster.  (Performance speeds have been inching up for decades: consider the Django-phenomenon.)  And for most instrumentalists, not just string players, tone gets sacrificed to speed.

Emma Fisk, a romantic at heart, doesn’t turn Joe into unicorns-and-rainbows on this CD, but she does remind us of Joe’s affectionate side, the part of his character that would linger over long tones and leisurely phrases.  She doesn’t slow everything down, but she does change the mood from headlong briskness to a kinder, easier embrace.  In this she is partnered splendidly by the elegant guitarist James Birkett, who is lyrical beyond everything else.  He is new to me, but he is kind to the ears at every turn, without being overly sentimental.  So even the faster numbers on this disc — RAGGIN’ and MY HONEY’S — are sweet saunters instead of being mad sprints.  The music breathes comfortably and well.

Here you can witness Emma and James making music — video and audio — through the media of Vimeo, Soundcloud, and YouTube.  And here you can celebrate the Spring, reward yourself for good behavior, or warm someone’s heart — by buying one or more of these life-enhancing discs.

A delightfully mournful sample, James’ EDDIE’S LAMENT:

May your happiness increase!

THESE COZY VIRTUOSI: EMMA FISK, JACOB ULLBERGER, SPATS LANGHAM, HENRY LEMAIRE at the MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (November 4, 2016)

Violinist Emma Fisk — with a lovely dark tone, a romantic conception to match her fine technique — never disappoints and is always swinging.  Here she is with three of the best — Spats Langham on the right and Jacob Ullberger on the left, guitars, and Henry Lemaire, string bass — in a session celebrating Django, Stephane, and their work together both as the Quintette of the Hot Club of France and later.

This delight took place at the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, held in Whitley Bay, England: this set comes from November 4, 2016.We begin with an incomplete performance — my fault — but I thought the remainder was too good to ignore.

COQUETTE:

I’M CONFESSIN’:

BELLEVILLE:

IF YOU ONLY KNEW (HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU):

DARK EYES:

As you can hear, Emma is a superb violinist, one not restricted to this particular genre.  She and guitarist James Birkett have formed a duo devoted to the music of Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti, and the delightful evidence — audio and video — can be found here.  I’ve heard rustlings that a new CD by the duo is on the way as well.  Emma and friends — what friends! — will be back for the 2017 Party, held in late October: visit here for details, videos, and more.  I won’t be there, but that will leave more room for you and yours.

May your happiness increase!

GYPSY JAZZ PLEASURES: “DJANGOLOGIE” and “SOME LIKE IT HOT CLUB”

I have been fussy about modern re-enactments of “Gypsy jazz” in the past, but here are two superb CDs that you should know about.

I didn’t know about DJANGOLOGIE until I had the good fortune to hear Emma D. Fisk play at the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party.  She is a find: a violinist with a dark rich tone, a love for melody, and a way of swinging without being syrupy.  And the Gypsy jazz quartet she’s part of, DJANGOLOGIE, is as good a group as she is a player.  A very uncluttered instrumentation: Emma, James Birkett, guitar; Giles Strong, guitar; Mick Shoulder, double bass.  Here is the group’s Facebook page.

DJANGOLOGIE A NEW LEAF

Their CD, A NEW LEAF, mixes QHCF repertoire — pre and postwar — LADY BE GOOD, SHEIK OF ARABY, NUAGES, MINOR SWING, J’ATTENDRAI, TROUBLANT BOLERO, ARTELLERIE LOURDE, DARK EYES — with engaging originals by Mick Shoulder, DANS MON ENDROIT TRANQUILLE, BEAUTIFUL TILL 3, DJANGO’S STOMP, SINISTER DRAG, and FEUILLE D’AUTOMNE.  The recording is very beautiful for many reasons: the guitarists pass melody and rhythm back and forth; Shoulder holds it all together; Emma calmly soars.  Here’s some musical evidence:

That’s only thirty-nine seconds, so we need more:

And here’s the group’s rocking version of THE SHEIK:

They’re original without losing the sweet intensity of their heroic forebears, in the tradition without copying the Reinhardt-and-Grappelli trademark runs and gestures.  The CD is available through CDBaby and Amazon, although (as always) the best way to get a copy is to hand money directly to members of the group — in between sets — and see them smile at you.

Moving from the UK to the US, I can recommend SOME LIKE IT HOT CLUB — a quartet of a different slant, based in New Jersey, with Alex E. Soudah, guitar; Rob Cuellari, guitar; Frank Slingerland, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Jerry D’Anna, string bass.

SOME LIKE IT HOT CLUB

Their CD begins with a clever link to the Billy Wilder film from which they draw their name, but what follows is light-hearted, not comical.  They lean more to the postwar Reinhardt instrumentation, but they are flexible and swinging: DOUCE AMBIANCE, MANOIR DE MES REVES, LA FOULE, LADY BE GOOD, CARAVAN, MONTAIGNE SAINTE-GENEVIEVE, MINOR SWING.  I don’t have any videos to post of the group, but they have appeared in New Jersey to great acclaim — most recently pleasing audiences at a New Jersey Jazz Society concert.  So do look them up!  This is their Facebook page.

May your happiness increase!

“DOUCE AMBIANCE”: DJANGOLOGIE (EMMA FISK, JAMES BIRKETT, GILES STRONG, MICHAEL SHOULDER)

This tidy Gypsy jazz quartet evokes the easy flowing lyricism of the original performances by Django and Stephane.  Hear for yourself: the melodies unfold in leisurely ways, and everything is sweetly in balance.

The UK group is called DJANGOLOGIE, but they don’t restrict themselves to the QHCF repertoire.  Emma Fisk, who made such an impression on us in a variety of musical contexts at the 2012 Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, is on violin; James Birkett takes the first guitar solo; Giles Strong the second; Michael Shoulder is on bass:

Here’s the band’s Facebook page and here you can check out their CD.  Sweet ambiance indeed!

May your happiness increase.