Monday, June 3, 2013

Django Billy in Concert at the Blue Rock Café

Django Billy.  In Concert at the Blue Rock Café, May 24, 2013

I don’t get out nearly as much as I used to, so it was a real treat to head over to Hudson’s Blue Rock Café for the debut of a new band that bills itself as playing a combination of Gypsy jazz and bluegrass.  Django Billy is new, but the band members have played around the region for some time, in various bands, guest gigs, and solo projects.  Josh Rzepka would seem to be the most “famous,” with three solo CDs to his credit, but they are all well-known in Northeast Ohio music circles.  First, a disclaimer:  while I had never met any of the members of the group, I do know Peter Nario-Redmond’s spouse, Michelle, who is a colleague at Hiram College.  She has had absolutely no influence on my positive review of this concert.  (Hi, Michelle!)

I was surprised to discover a few days before the concert that they were going on earlier than expected (6:00 pm), and were the opening act for Blue Lunch.  I would have liked to stay around late to see them too, but I just don’t have that kind of stamina anymore, and so my review is limited to the three sets Django Billy played from 6 to 9.  I must, however, say a few words about the venue.  My wife and I showed up about 5:00 pm, since she was hungry and wanted dinner before the concert.  The Blue Rock Café is a small-to-medium-sized bar/restaurant with stage in front and a fair amount of seating, bigger than the Beachland Ballroom, but not by much.  It’s a very friendly place, with a fine staff, good ambience, and excellent food.  I highly recommend it for a casual dinner, even if you’re not coming for music.  But come for the music.  They have a variety of acts, mostly roots music, with some other stuff too.  A lot of Northeast Ohio musicians play there regularly, and the acoustics are just fine.

Back to the band.  As a first outing, these fellows did a very good job.  Their three sets consisted largely of standards, with a couple of originals by Peter thrown in.  My first concern was how Rzepka’s trumpet would fit into either Django-style jazz or bluegrass, but that didn’t seem to matter much, because he sounded just fine.  As it turned out, there wasn’t a lot of bluegrass to be had (notice the lack of banjo and mandolin, and the absence of vocal harmonies), and the tunes that weren’t jazz tended to have more of a country flavor.  Advertising aside, the guys played some fine standards, some with more of a Brazilian influence (“Black Orpheus,” “Blue Bossa”) than Gypsy jazz.  Many of the tunes are old favorites, and swung (swang?) nicely.  Lucas Kadish provided the heavy lifting on guitar, at least from what I could hear toward the back of the room, and he is a very fine guitarist, with the Django style down pat.  In the first set, I was particularly impressed by their renditions of “Caravan” (a personal favorite of mine, by Barney Bigard), “ Black Orpheus,” and the closer, “Sweet Sue.”  I have to admit, a couple of songs passed me by, because we were surrounded by several tables of Hiram College folks, and there was much talk and distraction.  The beverages were delicious.

Each of the other sets was equally well-done, and they kept playing songs I like, so I couldn’t help but listen as attentively as possible given the distracting surroundings of friends and noise.  You can’t go wrong with “Ain’t Misbehavin’” (well, you could but they didn’t), and “Lady Be Good” was given a fine treatment.  Not surprisingly, many of the tunes were famously done by Django Reinhardt himself, including “Limehouse Blues” and “Minor Swing.”  Even “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,” which I mostly recall as an Andrews Sisters tune, worked very well.  I can’t say much about Peter’s singing of a couple of tunes, because I had a bit of trouble hearing.  It sounded okay amidst the noisy throng.  The miking early in the concert was a bit off, but once it was fixed, Kadish’s guitar chimed through loud and clear.  In all, it was a fine show.

I certainly hope that these gentlemen appear together again soon.  If so, please go see them.  I think you’ll enjoy their music as much as I did.

Personnel:  Peter Nario-Redmond (guitar, vocals), Josh Rzepka (trumpet), Jeremey Poparad (double bass), Lucas Kadish (guitar).
SET1: Caravan, All of Me, Honeysuckle Rose, *Anxiety, Djangology, Black Orpheus, *Happy and Malcontent, After You've Gone, Undecided, Sweet Sue.
SET2: Nuages, Ain't Misbehavin’, Mister Sandman, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, *Washing Bin, Lady be Good, Sweet Georgia Brown.
SET3: *Lana, Limehouse Blues, Avalon, Blue Bossa, It Had to be You, Exactly Like You, Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen, Minor Swing
(*Indicates Peter Nario-Redmond original)

Jeff Wanser

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