Despite the name The New Orleans Swinging Gypsies aren’t a Hot Club group, but they are more influenced by Django than most of the local New Orleans fare. It comes through in the vigorousness of their playing. Classic era bebop and the most creative small group swing are also part of an uncategorizable sound that is soulful, musically impressive, and pleasing from the dance floor or the corner table. They have weekly gigs at several New Orleans hotspots including Fritzel’s, The Maison, and Bamboulas.
Their latest album, Hot Boudin, is a step up for the band. Recorded at Esplanade Studios and produced by the Grammy Award winning Randy Crafton they knew they had a creative moment to capture and pulled out all the stops. Like any good band the sound has evolved to follow the interests of the artists involved, but their growth across three albums since 2015 is truly impressive.
Their last album, Swing 17, was on my review list but I never got to it. My first impression then was of a high quality modern swing group geared towards young dancers with an understandable, if only occasional, gypsy guitar focus. Listening back to it now, and to their shorter 2015 debut there is a consistency, they’ve simply honed what was unique about them until it became instantly recognizable as their own with Hot Boudin.
I asked founder and guitarist John Saavarda about that sound:
“The New Orleans Swinging Gypsies are influenced heavily by New Orleans Traditional Jazz but we have some untraditional things about the group. We have a tap dancer/solo jazz dancer as a full time member of the band. The foundation of the sound is based on Gypsy Jazz/Django Reinhardt style guitar, and what we strive for is to take traditional jazz and swing and perform it in a new modern way while simultaneously honoring the original tradition and intent.”
Saavedra is himself from New Orleans, and his vocals resonate with a timelessly soulful New Orleans masculinity. The broadly popular Django style and inclusion of the dance community help the band reach outside the confines of the city. Respecting Giselle Anguizola’s tap and in live shows the visual communication of her dancing as integral to the music of the band communicates something about their artistic goals. Giselle also contributes a classically punctuated American Songbook vocal delivery. She’s particularly effective on the opening track of this album, “Moonray”, a perfect set up for what’s to come.
Hot Boudin was nominated for Best Traditional Jazz Album of the Year by Offbeat, coming close among some obviously stiff competition in New Orleans. It stands out from their live show primarily for a greater focus on soloing from both the reeds and guitar. Giselle can be heard tapping on many tracks but they also engage a drummer for a fuller and more driving rhythm section.
In addition to John and Giselle the band is Paul Thibodeaux (drums) Connor Stewart (alto sax)
Nick Garrison (trombone) Matt Booth (bass). Stewart deserves special mention. He can’t be more than 23 and has a tone and purity that simply blasts you along. Having come from Ireland and Canada he’s been a working musician in New Orleans since 17 and performed with everything from hard bop to funk and rock groups. When he distills that down into classic jazz it’s magic. He’s a ringer and it’s a testament to his restraint that he doesn’t dominate this album even more than he does.
Everyone gets some chance to shine over 11 exploratory tracks averaging over 4 minutes. Saavarda’s guitar work, rhythmically and in solos, compliments Stewart seamlessly. The bass player holds his own and the drum solos add rather than distract. A few tracks have a noir movie vibe, others evoke a New Orleans of the seventies, yet they all stay within a traditional jazz framework. It’s a lovingly modern sound that respects the melody. Four original tracks are included and of the standards “Russian Lullaby” was my highlight, it’s New Orleans in five powerful minutes.