We had already been hearing about the gypsy jazz phenomenon in Shanghai for more than one year (Winter ’07 to Spring ’08) before of the closing of one of its well-known venues (LaBella Café) and the beginning of a quite long silent phase from its most beloved band, as well.
However, as soon as we were finally getting accustomed to this big big mess, that actually seemed the end of a brief-but-golden age, all at once, last Saturday night, we had the chance to meet with and listen to the band which is lately born from the ashes of Swing Dynasty.
So…Ladies and Gentlemen, here we go with SWING GUM SHANGHAI!
The perfect debut venue, on a very hot and rainy Saturday night, for the protagonists of our “most savage” and funniest swinging gypsy dreams, has been JZ…
Scene: As soon as I arrive, something tells me that the HUGE “media campaign” these guys (mainly in in the person of their singer: Gauthier Roubichou) have been organizing all along the week, has worked out pretty well: JZ is definitely full. Unbelievably full, amazingly full, annoyingly full and crowded. It takes me more than ten minutes to get through the crowd, go up to the second floor and find a corner with a reasonable view for my pics. As soon as I conquest it, the band starts to play, people begin to push me too much to take any decent picture and…surprise surprise…I start to have a lot of fun anyway!
It sounds like the audience has been missing these guys. Possibly the mere fact that Gauthier and Vladimir (V. Legay: guitar, backing vocals) and all the members of the band (Jhonny Zozef: drums and percussion, Tian Chang: double bass, Quentin Paquignon: soprano and baritone saxophones) are simply doing what they are supposed to do, makes us all happy and high. Isn’t it just the addictive power of music -mainly live music? It can make us completely dependent. The audience, someway, depends on some bands’ power to change its emotional state, on their power to push it up and down. Probably without any apparent reason, once you enjoyed someone’s live gigs you need to listen to them again and again and again…
However, JZ at the beginning was really too crowded to improve the audience’s ability to concentrate on the sound. Personally, I just started to focus on Gauthier’s acting attitudes, his funny and sardonic moves, his happy (and hippie, too), scornful, mocking, Carrousel’s free-styled faces and…yeah, his glass of wine -that made me bloody thirsty, aching to go downstairs, getting dramatically lost in the middle of a chaotic clapping, laughing, screaming, chatting, drinking, dancing -mainly by a French-Italian-Chinese crowd- till the end of the first part of the show…
The second part: it starts just after some persons’ leaving, which actually makes everything more enjoyable.
The show -let’s say show, because there is a lot of cabaret and acting in it- is undoubtedly having a lot of success. The atmosphere is amazingly warm. Moreover, I cannot deny the sensation that this success is not simply due to what musicians are actually doing here and now, but also to the simple matter of fact that they are “finally doing it again”. It feels like a warm welcome back, a familiar reunion among old friends.
My sensation is that almost all the songs have already been played by the previous formation of the band. But the attitude sounds different: the less they sound canonically gypsy/manouche, the more they sound swingers.
Vladimir alone (accompanied by Gauthier’s guitar) already makes a difference with the past. His guitar has always had a very warm sound, melancholic at times, despite of the feasting people around. To me he is a very very good musician. He has got his own personal touch, despite his constant opening to every kind of experience. By the way, my feeling is that he has a kind of blues-more-than-jazz groove -he’s got the soul of a blues man actually. It is maybe also for this reason that, now that he doesn’t play with Etienne anymore, his warm, deep sound gets warmer, with the potential power to hold and surround the audience as the other instruments. Someway, the more a certain type of Django Reinhardt’s gypsy memories slowly disappear and the sound loses some acuities, the more it gives space to the basses of a subtle poetry of the road (which somehow sounds different, someway is the same as before). This is an attitude – a style, let’s say – that should be developed more.
On the same line seems the new-entered double bass sound. Despite of his definitely serious and a bit cold jazzier look, Tian Chang perfectly matches with the multiple attitudes of the band. More: while, at first, he does not even look interested to the surrounding chaos (he mostly never looks around, smiles, or else), actually he is always, imperceptibly moving, following or leading the music flow even physically, as if cradling his instrument all the time.
Anyway, meanwhile I got lost in these thoughts, all those people around were really enjoying these guys’ re-interpretation of many swing and cabaret classics and their solos and jamming sketches. More than three couples started to dance along the empty space between the scene and the tables, then few of them even made their own requests.
They definitely loved Quentin Paquignon’s numerous solos – as brilliant, dramatic and fluid as always- and Jhonny Zozef’s drums (that maybe could be a bit more freed and resounding).
By the end it has been a very crazy, feasting night. The performance was cool and the show was a lot of fun for us all.
Since it was the first time these guys played all together as a band and since they all are experienced and passionate musicians, I am sure they are quickly going to grow and match together day by day, so that it’s worth to check them more than once. Maybe this first time they mess some planning before of the performance (a schedule of their moves and sounds on the stage), that may still save the jamming sensation, while developing more what is undoubtedly both, “a chilled set of jazz” and “a more lively entertaining show” (Gauthier) as well. What I mean is that we all had a lot of fun over there -this is for sure. But I am quite sure these musicians can mix together to the point that every audience’s “One More!” “Encore!” can even become their own voice, their own need, born from a fully gratifying experience of personal growth, linked to, but totally freed from, the legacy of their last experiences.
Go and check them on your own, on Mondays, at The House of Blues and Jazz.