REVIEW: Hot Club Sandwich – Green Room

If it’s lunchtime as you’re reading this, then a warm grilled cheese or a BLT might sound pretty good right now — but we’re here to discuss Hot Club Sandwich, a Gypsy jazz combo with a brand new album, Green Room, now out on the Modern Hot Records label. It’s their fifth, and follows 2005’s Live on the Verandah.

Gypsy jazz is a sub-genre that’s always fascinated me, and its popularity is pretty closely tied to the ongoing dedication many fans have for the legendary Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, who is still revered and is the subject of festivals around the world. Hot Club Sandwich embraces the connection – big surprise – but even more importantly, the group maintains a level of music consistent with the best of today’s practitioners.

The guiding light of the group is guitarist Greg Ruby, who gained a lot of experience during his service with Pearl Django, a veteran and respected Gypsy jazz combo. He’s joined by talented guitarists Ray Wood and Kevin Conner, along with Matt Sircely on the mandolin, bassist James Schneider and Tim Wetmiller on the violin. There are also some guests who drop in from time to time with less traditional instruments, including accordion, maracas, bongo, and…washboard.

The talent level of the musicians is high, but the best thing about this album is the rich and diversified mix of songs. It’s not surprising that there are tunes reminiscent of the days of Django and Stephane Grappelli, such as the title tune, “Green Room”, “Old Joe’s Hittin’ the Jug”, and “Heavy Artillery” (which was actually written by Django). All perfectly transport us into the world of strummin’, pickin’ and fiddlin’ Gypsy jazz.

But wait, there’s more — we also have “Gaucho”, a tune based on a combination of a Brazilian joropo and a French waltz, and “Yogiri No Shinobiai”, a fascinating adaptation of a song discovered on a Japanese jukebox. The fusion of a Latin beat with Eastern music is mesmerizing, and perfectly illustrates the diversity of this album.

And finally, there are several songs with vocals — and interesting variations, even among those. “Sweet Sue” is an old song but fits perfectly into the collection and evokes Django’s ability to interpret early American jazz. There’s even some scat singing, on Fletcher Henderson’s jazz classic, “Eight, Nine, and Ten”.

Hot Club Sandwich has crafted a winner with Green Room — highly recommended.

1. Stompin’ at KAOS
2. Sweet Sue
3. Gaucho
4. Yogiri No Shinobiai
5. Renegade Cafe
6. Heavy Artillery
7. Old Joe’s Hittin’ the Jug
8. I’ll Never Be the Same
9. Dedos Duros
10. Gotcha
11. Eight, Nine and Ten
12. Twilight in Turkey
13. Waltz Resistance
14. Green Room

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