As best I understand it, manouche is a French word used to describe gypsies. The word gypsy, in Europe, carries so much pejorative weight, another is required. So, trust the French to come up with a polite euphemism to mask entrenched racism. George Washingmachine, being a very naughty boy, is doubtless taking the piss in calling his band Feel The Manouche.
Of course, the great, transcendent thing about gypsy music, not least in its jazz form, is it can be felt as much as heard, thanks to interpolation of the chromatic scale, to imbue shade, as a counterpoint to the lightness and brightness imparted by shuffle notes. Man, manouche swings hard and hot, while never completely betraying the pathos inevitably incumbent upon life as a gypsy; as much now, if not moreso, than then. Call it by its more romantic moniker if you please, it's still gypsy swing, as practiced by the legendary Hot Club, inextricable from two luminaries of the form, in Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli.
Feel The Manouche, headed by the irrepressible George Washingmachine, takes its cure from these 1930s origins, but isn't so singleminded or obsessed that it's unprepared to step further back in time. Or leave France for other shores: Germany & Venezuela, to name but two. The group even plays Bach (and brilliantly) to prove the point. The point being classical music, too, has had its influences on jazz. At least this kind of jazz. And at least this kind of classical. Who, this side of a bona fide musicologist, can say if the likes of the Strausses influenced the so-called musette waltz so intrinsic to manouche, to boot? Nor is choro (or chorino, the Brazilian form translating as little lament) beyond its scope.
There can be no more genial host than MC Washingmachine (just don't cross him, he's easily agitated), not any more congenial, comfy, loungeroom-away-from-home laid-back than Glebe's Colbourne Avenue; warm (a little too much so, last night), intimate and acoustically ideal. Run by wild man and eccentric enthusiast (speaking of veritable musicologists) Andrew Lorien, it quietly, almost secretively attracts the established and emerging creme de la creme of jazz (and beyond) composers and players; week in, week out.
Feel The Manouche comprises GW on vocals, violin and uke; Clare O'Meara on accordion, violin and vocals; Arthur Washington (GW's son) on acoustic guitar and Stan Valacos on acoustic bass. They've just recorded a CD (in Valacos' studio-garage), released next week. On it, you might find tunes by Porter, or Gershwin. (As luck would have it, seemingly born-entertainer Monica Trapaga was in the audience and graced the band with a medley of a couple of George & Ira's finest.) Washingmachine confesses his son is reintroducing the band to a plethora of guitarists, so it's no surprise to hear something from Les Paul & Mary Ford, or cool cat Wes Montgomery.
All are not only gifted, versatile and extraordinarily accomplished musicians but, patently, passionate and proselytising ones, which makes all the difference with any music, but especially so in the gypsy genre. And even when the tunes played are in a sadder or more sombre vein, the 'machine ensures sheer enjoyment and good humour soon returns. He and his cohorts also prove one can be dead serious about one's music, without being in any way pretentious. F. the Man. are also playful enough to make the music much more than a mere replication of the (after all) inimitable Hot Club sound. And, as indicated, there's plenty of coverage of music from the continental US, and elsewhere, as well as Europe.
George's voice is a seductively, warm smooth instrument; making for easy listening in the best possible sense. His duets with partner, Clare O'Meara, are delicately crafted, sweet and touching. Both excel on violin, with O'Meara's instrument boasting a sharper, brighter sound, making for a distinctive string voice. Her ability on accordion is prodigious, too, tempered with a style all her own. Where that comes from is desperately difficult, if not downright impossible, to pin down, given a resume that starts from five years of age, with classical studies. You'd be hard-pressed, also, to pinpoint a style she hasn't mastered, or an instrument.
There are numerous possible heirs to Django's throne. Among the very best, for my money (while not forgetting or foregoing Lulo), is Frenchman Bireli Lagrene. While Arty Washington's playing isn't, perhaps, as strident, he channels something of the spirit of the original master: the speed; ease; fluidity; fearlessness; finesse. And he's but young, so he's only going to get better, to the extent that's possible. For sheer class and calibre, he rivals the old man. Just a fraction more self-assurance and he'll be flatout world-beating. Especially so if he simplifies his style to more closely match the nuanced precision of DR.
Stan Valacos should probably be known as Stan, The Man, if he isn't already. Of course, with Van Fonseca, the two are known as Stan and Van, plying their passion for Brazilian music to anyone who'll listen. And like his colleagues, Valacos is a multi-instrumentalist, as at home on wine-bar guitar (at a virtuosic level) as on acoustic bass, upon which his fingers fly, as ekes out a warm, wonderful tone. Like his bandmates, there's next to nothing he can't play, genre-wise and his jazz resume reads like a name-dropping who's who.
It's astonishing a cosy, clubby venue like Colbourne Avenue can pull in a group of this quality. And on a Wednesday night, to boot. What better way to get over the hump?
Feel the Manouche
Venue: The Cafe Church Space | cnr Colbourne Ave & St. Johns Road, Glebe, Sydney
Date: February 16, 2012