Customer Reviews: Live at Yoshis
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on July 4, 2012
For their 13th CD and their 3rd on Azica Records, The Hot Club of San Francisco
continues to push their limits. Having tackled classical and holiday repertoire on their
previous Azica releases, HCSF now shows what sensitive accompanists they can be
by building an entire album around their delightful chanteuse, Isabelle Fontaine. The
CD faithfully documents one outstanding live performance from October 25, 2011, at
the group's hometown jazz landmark, Yoshi's San Francisco.
Responding to the numerous requests for "more" whenever Fontaine sings with the
HCSF, the making of an all-vocal CD was an obvious move for the instrumental
ensemble in their 22nd year of bringing gypsy swing back to the country where jazz
was born. Says Hot Club founder, Paul Mehling, "In over twenty years we've never
featured a singer. We just hadn't found the RIGHT singer...until now."
No stranger to the HCSF, Ms. Fontaine is usually one of the group's two rhythm
guitarists, sharing that responsibility with veteran rhythm machine, Jeff Magidson. But
for this outing, she steps up to the microphone while Jeff holds down the rhythm chair,
buoying the ensemble with the help of bassist and multi-instrumentalist, Clint Baker,
who also gets to shine on trumpet and trombone on a few numbers.
Two-time GRAMMY®-winning violinist, Evan Price, is stellar as always throughout the
performance with his effortless inventions, sparkling wit and gorgeous tone while
leader, Paul Mehling's solo guitar blazes through the tunes with the urgency of a
tornado, bringing thrills, mystery, romance and sheer fun.
And then there's the repertoire: a thoughtful selection from must-haves like Cole
Porter's "I Love Paris" and the Billie Holiday classic, "What A Little Moonlight Can Do",
to little-known gems like Henri Salvador's "Syracuse", each highlighting yet another
facet of the multi-talented and multilingual Fontaine. Again in the words of Paul
Mehling, "Isabelle can SWING with the best of 'em, evoke all of her great
predecessors, and share enough of herself in these eleven songs to have you
yearning for more."
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on July 1, 2012
Isabelle Fontaine inserts herself quickly and deeply in the heart--with a fresh, buoyant voice, delicious phrasing, and effortless transition of mood and language, totally integrated with this unexcelled Hot Club group. Wow! do they swing happy! Love 'em!
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on May 2, 2013
The Hot Club of San Francisco is to be treasured and revered, make no mistake about it. And they keep getting better and better, evolving with all kinds of different material without losing any of the vitality of Django Reinhardt/Gypsy Jazz sensibility. It can easily be argued that they are simply the very best band of this kind in the United States, fostering this tradition without bogging down at any time in nostalgia. Not to mention the fact that they swing like crazy. One can only wonder at what the often prickly Django Reinhardt would think of this international jazz craze built up on his innovations that date back now almost eighty years.....

Paul "Pazzo" Mehling has more than earned his street credentials as the leader of this group for the twenty plus years of its existence, having spent some of his formative years as a young working jazz musician on the streets of Paris learning from the locals. That is going straight to the source to inject it into your bloodstream! Mehling grew up enthralled by swing music from his days as a toddler and was subsequently caught up in the dawn of the Beatles era, inspiring his desire to play the guitar. With his training in classical guitar Paul felt unsatisfied in rock bands, preferring the acoustic guitar so he sought something else. When he heard Django Reinhardt recordings for the first time he knew he had found his musical place. Upon settling in the San Francisco area in the early 1990's Paul discovered that very few musicians knew how to play this music and he wound up teaching others how to capture its wonderful nuances. The Hot Club of San Francisco was born once the proper combination of musicians was found. I was fortunate to have seen this band in a rare East Coast concert appearance in Delaware a few years ago and fell in love with them immediately.

This is album number thirteen for the Hot Club of San Francisco and it is the first to feature one of the newest members of the band, singer and rhythm guitarist Isabelle Fontaine who joined in 2009. The French born Fontaine has a singing voice that struck me immediately as capturing Paris itself. The sensation was startling for a generally cynical listener like myself, notoriously slow to warm up to singers. Not in this instance. Isabelle had me from her first few bars on `It's Alright With Me.' Her choice of material is something of a combined tribute to Cole Porter and France, perfect for this group. Isabelle's reading of the verse on `Just One Of Those Things' should bring you a chuckle as it did for me. Hearing a vocalist float over the loping string guitar rhythm sound is a rare treat and not to be missed. There are also a couple renditions of lyrics in French which are most charming. For a live performance the recording itself is exceptional, capturing the delicacy of it all and the sensitive manner that this music projects and fills the room. This is an integral part of the joyous way this music gets inside of you. To swing with such force but yet at the volume they do is unique and thrilling. Properly capturing the sound of the band in the room is paramount to the success of making it all work so well here. Bravo to location sound engineer Bruce Egre! Two tunes are straight out of the Hot Club Quintet of France book, `R-26' and `Dinette.' Mehling has such good taste, never slavishly copying Django but the sensation is that the Maestro is lingering in the air. Some new material is sprinkled in as well with the gorgeous instrumental `Song d'Automne.' A fun version of the famous Louis Prima arrangement on Buona Sera takes the group into jump territory while never losing that Gypsy/Jazz swing. Violinist Evan Price and Mehling contribute arrangements which augment the string quartet with other instruments, adding interesting variations to the mix.

As a dedicated Django Reinhardt completist I can report that I am glad I overcame my initial resistance to opening my ears and hearing The Hot Club of San Francisco. I unwisely concluded that I didn't want to hear a copy when I could hear the originals. On the surface a choice which may seem reasonable, but how shortsighted I was and how grateful I am that I got out on that winter day and saw these marvelous musicians bring this music to life. The Hot Club of San Francisco has a regular Monday night gig at a restaurant in San Francisco called Le Colonial and I hope to make it there and spend an evening sitting at a table three feet in front of them. They continue to get better and better and more creative, leaving those of us that love the group to wonder what direction will they go in next? The album prior to this one is a Christmas affair and prior to that is my favorite of all thirteen, "Bohemian Maestro: Django Reinhardt & The Impressionists." Hey, throw caution to the wind and take a shot at his one to get started. Sooner or later you will end up going back and getting all of them like I did.

Pat Goodhope
"Avenue C" Wednesday's 9 - 11 PM Eastern Time
University of Delaware Public Radio
91.3FM and
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on September 1, 2012
The Hot Club of San Francisco has nothing left to prove. They are the premier American gypsy jazz band and rank among the very best in the world. Their last four albums have set a higher standard of creativity, distinction, and sonic quality, and they bring an unerring faithfulness to the idiom--their place in the gypsy jazz cosmos can only be described as one of grace. `Postcards from Gypsyland' and `Bohemian Maestro' are especially powerful recent albums, though a box set of all four plus this latest would be a fine addition to their line.

`Live at Yoshi's San Francisco', featuring vocalist Isabelle Fontaine throughout, is their first live album in many's keeping the ensemble young and fresh. And it comes as no surprise that this brilliant music is played as effortlessly and is as delicious as morsels of meat falling off the bone of a perfectly barbecued pork rib.

This is undisputedly the HCSF's finest live recording. The live energy, from the hush of the crowd to their enthusiastic applause after can tell that they are locked in to the band, and the audience/band energy exchange is palpable. Every instrument, including Fontaine's voice, is clearly present; no one drowns anyone else out. Fontaine and the boys in the band seem to be perfect foils for each other. The band generates energy in anticipation of her entrances, lovingly accompany her--check out the brilliant guitar and violin fills in `Just One of Those Things'--and her chanteuse-ing dramatically excites the band, which you feel as soon as the soloists re-enter the song. Like the Hot Club, Fontaine adds just enough individuality to come and meet you, but faithfully honors the jazz singer tradition.

This is generally a set of standards; as always, some that are rarely heard, and some we all know. `R-26' is the opening Django/Grappelli instrumental that invites the crowd in to what promises to be an exciting night of music. `What a Little Moonlight Can Do' has a very fresh sound. I know its moonlight, but it evokes gypsies in daydream sunshine if you can imagine that. Fontaine's phrasing and timbre work especially well on this tune. Pazzo's mastery of his instrument and the jazz vocabulary are in evidence. In short, he's on fire.

`Syracuse' shares lyrical solos that prove that it's not the number, but the beauty of notes that make the song sing. On `Songe d'Automne', Zeppo expressively and flawlessly plays microtonal glissandos that fall right in to place. Pass the barbecue sauce! `C'est Si Bon' exhibits jazz sophistication without losing the rollicking cabaret character of the tune.

Within this idiomatic discipline, there is yet room for innovation. First of all, bassist `Wiki' Baker and the great acoustics of Yoshi's: the bass is recorded with a nice round tone. And Baker's playing is exceptional this time around, providing a propulsive thrust to the ensemble that I've not heard on previous recordings. Again, this does not launch the HCSF into any space jams or reckless reordering, but instead breathes new life into the traditional form. Other careful liberties: a unique arrangement and intro to `I Love Paris', featuring Zeppo's pizzicato, Pazzo's chromagic madness, and, along with `Stella by Starlight', is one of the most splendidly realized performances of the set. And Zeppo's electric mandolin on `Gone with the Wind'...I thought that Jim Hall had come to sit in for a number. Then there's Wiki's trombone in the Dixieland romp juxtaposed with the Wit-lesse's 40's background vocals that somehow work in `Buona Sera', which also features some of Fontaine's most spirited and lively singing. Likewise, rural blues Dobro is featured on `Milord', which is in French (!), and sounds like it was ripped right from `The Triplets of Belleville.' Go figure and get me some cornbread.

Like the subtlety of the whole gestalt that is the Hot Club of San Francisco, Pazzo, the group's founder and leader, not only provides glistening and inventive solos, but he has perfected the art of the fill. You can enjoy the whole album just listening for how he is going to embellish the next phrase and support the other players. These seasonings always enhance the soloist or singer, they're clever, funny, and are one of the many signatures of taste and beauty that set the Hot Club of San Francisco above and apart in this jazz genre. Now pass that platter over here.
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on May 14, 2013
I saw this group live in San Francisco at the new Jazz Center. This recording sounds just like they did in person. I would recommend this to anyone who likes jazz vocals.
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on August 29, 2013
... plus a sweet vocalist, Isabelle Fontaine. We enjoyed them as a recent concert and had to have this CD.
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on January 25, 2014
It seems anything coming out of Yoshi's is a top drawer experience to savor for years to come. Love it!
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on December 31, 2012
Great songs and renditions. Carries on the traditions Django Reinhart in Paris and Le jazz Hot! Isabelle does a sweet version of Picardee.
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on April 4, 2014
Live recording. Wish I had been at Yoshie's for the party. Her voice is terrific and perfect. Ad this to your collection.
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on February 7, 2013
If you are a fan of traditional Jazz or the gypsy Jazz of Django Reinhardt then you will love this music.
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