Dec. 06--Beso Negro
"Burn It Down"
This sensational album, the first full-length recording from Marin's next generation gypsy jazz band, couldn't have a more fitting title. This incendiary acoustic quintet is on fire, scorching through 10 tracks of original hot jazz that would make Django Reinhardt burn with pride.
Made up of guitarists-singers Adam Roach and Javier Jimenez, violinist Steve Gardner, bassist Cheyenne Young and drummer-backup singer Ethan Turner, Beso Negro has taken an old musical style and made it edgy and new, living up to all the electricity the band generated in breakout performances at the South by Southwest Music Festival and Outside Lands.
Reinhardt's original Quintette du Hot Club de France has inspired other contemporary musicians, most notably mandolin virtuoso David Grisman, who created "dawg music" from it. Now Beso Negro has taken that same 1930s vintage acoustic swing and attacked it with the aggressive sensibility of rock musicians. You can hear guitar picks hitting hard against strings, and everything teeters on the edge of control, but somehow the playing stays crisp, clean and powerful. It's gypsy jazz with attitude.
All but one of the 11 tracks were written by Roach and Jimenez. The opening title tune announces the album's pyrotechnic intentions with a chorus that goes, "Burn it down, burn it down, torch this (expletive) to the ground."
Jimenez, who's from Madrid and now lives in Fairfax, gives the band some Latin heat, singing French poet Georges Brassens "La Mala Reputacion," the only cover, in Spanish. On the blistering "Desde Alli," he and Roach alternate English and Spanish verses, shadowing each other's vocals and bringing the song to an unresolved end, an bold touch.
The breakneck pace, fueled by Turner's masterful drumming and percussion, slows on Roach's "We Can Dream," a melodic ballad with a relaxed vocal and sinewy, throaty cello lines by Heather Houseman Roach. On Jimenez's "La Gente De Bien," Gardner's violin recalls the tasteful style of the Hot Club's great Stephane Grappelli.
Scott Lawrence's piano adds texture to Roach's "Down to the Water," a relaxed ballad that breaks from "the pump" guitar style of the gypsy jazz tracks.
Turner produced, recorded and mixed "Burn it Down" at Owl Mountain Studio in Inverness, one of the few structures that survived 1995's devastating Mount Vision fire. And now it's made it through the recording of some of the hottest music to ever come out of West Marin. The place must be fireproof.
Buy it: "Burn It Down," Beso Negro, independent, CD Baby, $12.97 CD, $9.99 download
Hear them live: 8 p.m. Dec. 13, Rancho Nicasio, with This Old Earthquake, $12 to $15
-- Paul Liberatore
If you're a musician or band from Marin with an album or EP that readers can buy or download and want to be reviewed, send your CD and contact information, (if you have an upcoming gig, let us know that, too) to Press Play, 4000 Civic Center Drive, Suite 301, San Rafael, CA 94903.
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