Les Doigts de L'Homme, 1910

A delightful, joyous recording, great fun and deep pleasure from beginning to end. This band doesn’t recreate the sound of the immortal Quintette du the Hot Club of France, although the instrumentation is almost the same, the three guitars and bass line-up missing only a violin. No musician in their right mind would try and emulate Django Rheinhardt and Stephane Grappelli in anything other than verve and joi de vivre, and these four do just that. Their playing combines the lightheartedness and steam-roller power that were a stylistic feature of Hot Jazz with a modern taste for harmony and introspection. Their chord substitutions on “Saint James Infirmary” simultaneously disrupt the tune and bring it, whole, into entirely new territory.

The QHCF was a nightclub band that happened to find its way into the studio. They played for people to drink, dance and get a little wild, and their absolute brilliance was highly extroverted. Contemporary working situations for jazz musicians are different, especially for the relatively lonely souls seeking their art in the sound of a distant era. Les Doigts de l’Homme bring a palpable longing, a bittersweet bite, to their renditions. The emotional depth is something that makes this recording stand out from the pack of style-specific bands, and will have you listening to it repeatedly, deep into the night. One of the better things I’ve heard in many years.


I'm a composer and musician, and I write about music—I do that here, for the New York Classical Review, at the Brooklyn Rail (I edit the music section there) and any place else that will have me, like New Music Box and Music & Literature. I also wrote the Miles Davis' Bitches Brew book in the 33 1/3 series.