BDJF: the fingers

Park me in front of a good gypsy jazz group and it’s a guarantee I’ll walk out with a smile. It’s never failed. There’s just something about that music.

The first concert of the Burlington Discover Jazz Festival‘s final night featured the exceedingly gifted, swinging and very funny French gypsy jazz group, Les Doigts de L’Homme. They were probably “good” a few years ago. Now they’re outstanding.

I found out they were coming to the Festival earlier this spring on their first-ever US visit when my friend Jim (of the Queen City Hot Club) mentioned it, with a rare “not to be missed” endorsement. I know enough to take him at his word, and had a chance to find out firsthand what he meant when the quartet took the stage this evening.

Les Doigts de L’Homme (“Fingers of Man”) strummed, tapped, swung and spun their way through several generous handfuls of tunes including both originals and classics. Blue Skies and Ol’ Man River were in there, and so was one of the very best, bluesiest and smart versions of St. James Infirmary I’ve ever heard. (All from their recent recording, 1910.)

Their performance is a colorful profusion of varying styles and nuances, often seamlessly changing course uncountable times in the development of each song. A particularly nice inclusion was the oud, played ably by Olivier Kikteff (who doesn’t seem capable of doing anything uncapably in music). It introduced a depthy and longingly melancholic flavor to the mix. I’ve heard Olivier also plays electric guitar and banjo with equal dexterity, on occasion – not in this concert, but notably in a series of educational videos he’s produced for the band’s My Space page. I’ll be looking those up soon for sure.

After the show with Les Doigts downstairs, many folks made their way to the Flynn Main Stage above for the last show of the Festival, Bela Fleck and the Original Flecktones. Not me. I was quite content to walk out with a big smile and let the happy thoughts of Les Doigts continue to ring in my memory for a little longer as the last sounds I heard during this remarkable 2011 Discover Jazz Festival.

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