Fapy Lafertin Quartet swings Le Quecumbar

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Passers by on Battersea High Street on a warm summer evening, hearing the sweet energy of a guitar and a violin in full flight on a warm summer evening, stopped to listen as Fapy Lafertin’s guitar and Hannah Bienert’s violin entwined, parted, teased and cajoled before bringing Lapertin’s Cinzano – an exhilarating coupling of fast jazz waltz and czardas - to a soaring conclusion.

Inside Le Quecumbar, a friendly brasserie that double as a veritable shrine to the spirit of Django Reinhardt, the bitter-sweet I’ll Be Seeing You found Lafertin in lyrical mood, sometimes chasing a long, assertive run up the fingerboard, only to conclude it with a slow, delicate phrase of delicately caressed notes. A true improviser, he clearly has many well practised patterns and devices in his repertoire but he is constantly inventive and discriminating in his choice of notes, his dynamics and the development of his solos. His introductions to songs - a mix of chords and fragmentary phrases - are often little gems while his occasional use of right-hand tremolo on chords can add drama and intensity behind a soloist.

Of all the guitarists to emerge from the revival of interest in the music of Django Reinhardt, Stéphane Grappelli and the Quintet of the Hot Club of France that began around 20 years ago (wryly dubbed “The Django Industry” by Jim Mullen), Fapy Lafertin is one of the most creative and interesting. A Manouche gypsy who lives in Holland, he made his name in the 1980s as guitarist with the pioneering Belgian gypsy jazz group Waso in the 1970s and ‘80s. Although recognised as a master of the gypsy jazz guitar style of playing and its particular techniques, has never been content merely to reproduce the Hot Club style. He has wide musical interests and has often included in his concerts a set of Portugese Fado, performed on the traditional 12-string guitarra (challenging to tune, let alone play!).

Lafertin’s compositions at Le Quecumbar included a minor-key bossa whose Romany title translates as Hedgehog, Plachterida (meaning Butterfly) and the somewhat baroque Turn. When he raided the Hot Club repertoire, it was to select less well-worn songs such as I’ve Had My Moments, Coquette (with double bassist Sébastien Girardot astonishing everyone with a spectacular slap-bass solo) and Speevy which, with its menacing chromatically descending chords which then resolve conventionally, served as an excellent showcase for Hannah Bienert. This young violinist from Berlin is the ideal musical partner for Lafertin; she explores a ballad with delicate care and understanding but can hold her own against the virtuosity of the leader and set the room alight on fast tempos.

The tone of Lafertin’s Maccaferri-style guitar is gorgeous, bright, deep and clear from top of its range to the open strings a the bottom and the overall sound and internal balance of this largely acoustic quartet was perfect. Bassist Sébastien Girardot, from Melbourne, Australia, but now a confirmed Parisian, laid down a firm foundation throughout while Dave Kelbie, played excellent acoustic rhythm guitar on a giant vintage archtop Gibson L7.

Highlights included a dramatic interpretation of Astor Piazzolla’s Oblivion, their up-tempo closer I Wonder Where My Baby is Tonight and their encore – Fapy’s gentle arrangement of Debussy’s Clair de Lune – rounded off an evening of diverse musical pleasures from this charming, modest musician and his talented quartet.

– Charles Alexander