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November 29, 2012

Hot Club of Detroit’s third CD showcases more styles and influences

By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer

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The Hot Club of Detroit features, from left, Evan Perri, Julien Labro, Jon Irabagon, Shawn Conley, Paul Brady and Cyrille Aimée on their new CD, “Junction.”

“Junction,” the third CD from the Hot Club of Detroit, marks a move in the right direction, rhythm guitarist Paul Brady says.

“I enjoy listening to it,” the Grosse Pointe Shores native said by phone from Brooklyn, N.Y., where he now lives. “I actually put it on.”

The jazz band has taken its love of the music of gypsy jazz pioneer Django Reinhardt to a new place with “Junction,” an eclectic collection that finds the musicians dabbling in pop, groove and other styles as they pay homage to artists like Peter Gabriel on “Song for Gabriel,” and Phish on their own arrangement of  “Rift,” penned by Phish frontman Trey Anastasio.

“A friend of mine said, ‘You guys finally made a modern jazz record,’” Brady said. “I think that this album is finally something that we’re all happy with.”

Lead guitarist Evan Perri, a Grosse Pointe Woods native who now lives in Grosse Pointe Park and also performs regularly with legendary saxophonist James Carter, said the band seems to “take a different turn on every record we do.”

“To me, it’s probably my most honest record,” Perri said by phone from his home of the new release, which came out in August on Mack Avenue Records. “It really reflects our influences. I think music’s all about taking chances, and we took a chance with this record.”

One such chance was the inclusion of French vocalist Cyrille Aimée of Brooklyn, who won third place in the 2010 Thelonious Monk International Vocal Competition. Aimée sings on three tracks on “Junction,” and this is the first time the Hot Club has recorded songs with vocals.

“She has a beautiful voice,” Brady said. “Her instrument was just a nice timbral fit, and she was able to pull off what we asked of her, which wasn’t easy.”

Perri, who fell in love with Reinhardt’s music while studying jazz in college, formed the band circa 2003. But he said he doesn’t like using “gypsy jazz” — a “fake term,” in his estimation — to describe his band’s music. And indeed, the Hot Club’s style and influences are wide-ranging, something that’s evident on the CD.

“It’s very fun and adventurous. … It’s not yo mama’s gypsy jazz record,” Perri quipped.

The band also includes accordionist Julien Labro, who now lives in Toronto; saxophonist Jon Irabagon of Queens, N.Y., winner of the 2008 Thelonious Monk International Saxophone Competition; and bassist Shawn Conley, who lives in Brooklyn.

Conley’s arrival came in the wake of a horrific auto accident in July 2011 that seriously injured Hot Club bassist Andrew Kratzat and his fiancée, a violinist. The band’s new CD is dedicated to Kratzat, who is still undergoing physical and speech therapy as he recovers from the crash that nearly killed him and caused severe head injuries.

“That was the worst summer of my life — I think probably for all of us,” said Brady of their friend and colleague, whom they hope will someday be able to play music again. The accident occurred before the Hot Club went back into the studio for its latest album.

“I still think about it every day,” Perri said of the accident. Kratzat “brought so much to the band,” he said. But they never considered disbanding Hot Club.

“That’s not what Andrew would want us to do,” Perri said.

In Conley, Perri said they found “the only guy who could attempt to fill the hole Andrew left.”

In January and February, Brady said the band will be touring on the East Coast. The Hot Club spent the summer touring nationally and did a stint on the West Coast in September, he said. Perri said they’re trying to set up some European shows in 2013.

“Junction” doesn’t mark the end of Hot Club’s evolution — just another chapter. Perri said he rapped during a master class, and he and Labro have “talked for years” about incorporating electronic music into their work.

“I would love to, and I would not be surprised if that was on the next record,” Perri said of rap or electronic music.

For all of the changes, though, some aspects of the Hot Club are still the same.

“The thing that has remained constant is our instrumentation,” Brady said. “(We want to see) how far we can push ourselves with our instrumentation.”

The band will be continuing a longstanding holiday tradition by performing Dec. 21 at Cliff Bell’s, 2030 Park in downtown Detroit, a concert that’s expected to sell out. They’ll be joined onstage by James Carter, who is quoted on their website as saying that the Hot Club “plays with such reverence and passion. They have a different level of conviction.” For more about the show, call the club at (313) 961-2543 or visit www.cliffbells.com. For more about the band, visit http:// hotclubofdetroit.com or www.mack avenue.com.