Friday, December 05, 2008

Minor Swing plays unique gypsy jazz at La Casbah

Imagine yourself in a smoky Parisian café. The year is 1933 or 1934 and strains of gypsy jazz music softly support the din of conversation and revelry. Potsdam's own Minor Swing recreated this aural image and atmosphere during a performance at La Casbah on Thursday, November 20.

Minor Swing is composed of four permanent members. Founding members Christopher Brown and Victor Caamaño play acoustic and electric guitar respectively, with Caamaño contributing on tastefully incorporated vocals. Lorie Gruneisen plays violin and David Katz provides a solid foundation on upright bass. At this particular performance, Beth Robinson joined on the cello. Occasionally, Matt Bullwinkel also joins in on accordion. The group has been together for about five years, adding members through the years. "It's a great pleasure to share our music. We get excited about it and hope others do too. I get a great charge out of performing for an audience," said Caamaño.

The musical genre of gypsy jazz has seen somewhat of a revival in the past few years with indie-folk musician Andrew Bird and the film The Triplets of Belleville. Gypsy jazz is characterized by its simple melodies, syncopation, emphasis on the second and fourth beat of each bar and chromaticism.

The group performed an eclectic mix of jazz standards and gypsy tunes popularized by gypsy jazz forbearer Django Reinhardt and contemporary artists such as Biréli Lagrène and Dorado Schmitt. The namesake of the group is actually a song by Django Reinhardt, "Minor Swing," which the group performs. They cite other influences as Le Quartet du Hot Club de France (Django's group), Robin Nolan, and Pearl Django. During the performance, each musician got a chance to improvise. The musicians worked extremely well together, creating vivid vignettes within each song. The music was sometimes upbeat and sometimes mellow, but always enjoyable. The only thing that seemed to be missing was the sultry sound of a small drum kit played with brushes.

La Casbah has clearly established itself as a viable music venue in Potsdam, and this was yet another successful show. Music lovers enjoy the atmosphere and extensive bar. The large room has the versatility to accommodate intimate sit-down gatherings like this one and bigger events with lots of loud music and dancing.

Several attendees were there solely for the music, but most just let the music compliment and improve their otherwise ordinary Thursday night out. Nigh midnight, the older crowd had filtered out and those who remained were rowdy and disrespectful students, clearly there for the drinks.

Minor Swing is in the midst of recording their first CD. The group performs quite often in the Potsdam area. They have another engagement at La Casbah on December 19, at which they will also perform some Christmas music.

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