As a sharp-tongued member of the GLBT community, I'm occasionally called out by my peers for spitting out terms like "faggot," "queen," or "cocksucker" in a humorous context. So before we get to the meat of this column, let me make myself clear: The usage of the word "Gypsy" herein refers to a specific style of music. It is not meant as a slur against Romany-speaking individuals. I use the word lovingly, à la Stevie Nicks.
Whew. Okay... one of my favorite surprise discoveries of last year was Billet-Deux, a local quartet that specializes in 1930s-style "hot" Gypsy jazz, which I was fortunate enough to stumble upon one evening at Victrola Coffee. Well, finally, you can enjoy this ensemble's lively music without leaving the comfort and safety of your nest, via their debut CD, Alita (available at www.billet-deux.com).
While it would have been really easy for Billet-Deux to just knock out favorites from the Django Reinhardt catalog, with a kitschy contemporary cover thrown in (perhaps the aforementioned Fleetwood Mac ditty?), and ensure lifetime success on the wedding-reception circuit, they opted for the high road instead. "Jazz is a living art form and Gypsy jazz is a beautiful part of that art," read the liner notes. "We follow not only in the footsteps of Django but also all the brilliant artists that came after—from Matelot Ferret to John Coltrane to Thelonious Monk to Boulou Ferré and all stops in between." Highlights include several swell originals by guitarist Troy Chapman and bassist Kevin Stevens, and a reworking of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."
On another Gypsy-related note, experimental guitarist Sir Richard Bishop, of notorious Emerald City ensemble Sun City Girls will be playing a special in-store at Wall of Sound at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, June 6—6/6/6, as it were—to promote his new disc Fingering the Devil. "Sir Richard's solo guitar explorations often reflect the shadow worlds of India, the Middle East, and other points along the Gypsy trail," say our informants. In addition to, ahem, Fingering, a limited-edition CD-R titled All Strung Out will also be on sale at this performance.
To learn more about Sir Richard, check out the second issue of the Fretboard Journal: The Magazine for Musical Instrument Players, Collectors, and Builders, brought to you by the publishers of the now-defunct Ukulele Occasional. Besides a great profile on Bishop (including a hilarious anecdote about how he wound up jamming with Donovan and Devendra Banhart... after a chance encounter at the urinal), this glossy quarterly features an extended discussion with Neko Case about her tenor-guitar collection, a peek at Stephen Malkmus's home-studio gear, and a sumptuous photo essay, "Vintage String Packets from the Early 20th Century," that will leave even tone-deaf design queens—I mean, aficionados—drooling.