This is the second gypsy swing project at the CJC in four months. The last gypsy gig brought us Wellington band Black Spider Stomp. This time, we experienced the local variant. Wellington is arguably the home of New Zealand Manouche, but it definitely exists around Auckland. Thanks to Caro Manins (La Luna) and Misha Kovalov we feasted on catchy melodic tunes, marvelled at their hard-swinging lines. ‘Twistin the Swing’ and ‘La Luna & the Gadjos’ worked their magic and swing, they certainly did. It doesn’t matter what your Jazz preferences, I defy anyone to keep their feet still during a spirited Manouche gig.This is a music that stirs heart and limbs, a holiday from the cerebral manifestations of improvised music. It makes you feel good and the desire to move with it is overwhelming; that is its charm. I recall a recent discussion with Roger Manins about the diversity of Australian improvised music and he said this. “learning to play in really diverse situations is important. It is a feature of the Sydney scene. One minute the musicians are playing in an avant-garde ensemble, then straight ahead and the next minute playing Trad or Manouche”. For developing musicians, learning to swing in bands like this is invaluable, whatever their eventual calling. It was, therefore, good to see up and coming younger musicians in these lineups.The first set was ‘Twistin the Swing’. A very tasty quartet led by the ensemble leader, composer/guitarist Misha Kovalov. The group featured two Manouche guitars, an upright bass, and a reeds player. Kovalov was a leader in every sense of the word, virtuosic in an almost offhand way and oozing good-natured charm. He made us smile and he made our feet tap; what more could you want in a Manouche leader. This was a hybrid kind of Manouche, as many of the latter-day manifestations are (a perfect example is Lagrene playing Stevie Wonders ‘Isn’t She Lovely’). We heard some Django Reinhart compositions, a familiar sounding Russian tune (whose name I can’t recall but it was a total riot) and a lot of Kovalov’s own compositions. These compositions varied in style between 40’s swing and acoustic blues; sometimes with crazy quotes embedded.On rhythm guitar was Phillip Beatson, on clarinet and tenor saxophone Asher Truppman-Lattie and on upright bass Djordje Nikolic. Beatson was largely hidden from sight, working his solid rhythm guitar in the shadows; the others all took short solos. It was nice to hear Nikolic playing arco at times, good for a swing rhythm section. It was also good to hear the licorice stick played – a hard task master but especially rewarding in the swing context.
The second set brought leader, vocalist Caro Manins (La Luna) and tenor player Roger Manins to the bandstand (Manins replacing Truppman-Lattie). The band was ‘La Luna & the Gadjos’. This set was also unmistakably gypsy but with some Piaf and a few mainstream swing standards in the mix. Caro Manins has a terrific voice and we don’t hear her often enough. The audience reacted with real enthusiasm. Prior to the gig she had expressed some anxiety because a sudden cold had affected her vocal chords. She needn’t have worried. On the bandstand, her voice came through strongly. It was good to hear Piaf interpreted so well, a singer seldom heard by modern non-French audiences. The crowd pleasers from the second set were definitely the standards ‘Swing Brother Swing'(lyrics Billie Holiday) and the ever popular ‘Lullaby of the Leaves'(Bernice Petkere).
To add to the delights of Caro Manins vocals, Roger Manins was crooning on tenor saxophone. Not his fire-breathing post-Coltrane style, but gentle fills or perhaps laying down a muscular Ben Webster swing style solo, complete with vibrato notes which hung in the air, suspended only by breath. On a cold winter night, nothing warms you more. ‘Twistin the Swing: Misha Kovalov (leader, compositions, Manouche guitar), Phillip Beatson (rhythm guitar), Asher Truppman-Lattie (reeds), Djordge Nikolic (upright bass). ‘La Luna & the Gadjos‘: Caro Manins (leader, vocals), Misha Kovalov (guitar), Phillip Beatson (guitar), Roger Manins (tenor saxophone), Djordge Nikolic (upright bass) The gigs took place at the CJC (Creative Jazz Club), Albion Hotel, 18th May 2016.