13.02.2009 – Enjoyable and unpretentious
The improbably named Washingmachine quartet are one of the numerous combos to record for Dave Kelbie’s Lejazzetal label. Kelbie takes the music of Django Reinhardt as his main inspiration but is no mere copyist. The outfits that record for his label, among them the Angelo DeBarre Quartet and Evan Christopher’s Django A La Creole throw fresh light on the Hot Club sound. Both these acts have been reviewed elsewhere on this site.
Australian violinist and vocalist Washingmachine adds a new flavour to the pot-humour-but his quartet still swing like crazy. As on most of the label’s recordings Kelbie appears on rhythm guitar, driving his colleagues forward in his exemplary trademark fashion. He is the sole UK representative on this record with two other Aussies making up the group. Dave Blenkhorn plays lead guitar with Sebastien Girardot undertaking double bass duties.
The album was recorded in the unlikely setting of Room 301 of the Park City Hotel in Malaysia between the group’s engagements at the Miri International Jazz Festival. The quartet alternate between vocal and instrumental numbers concentrating in the main on American material from the swing area.
Behind Washingmachine’s zany persona there is real musical ability. Although he sticks to violin here he is in fact a talented multi instrumentalist. His singing is adequate, nothing more but is perfectly acceptable for this type of material. As a violinist he turns in some excellent solos over the course of the album as does Blenkhorn who seems to be particularly inspired on this recording.
The band hit the ground running with the first vocal item, a good natured take on “My Blue Heaven” with Blenkhorn taking the instrumental honours. Next comes a spirited romp through “Krazy Kapers” on which Washingmachine demonstrates his abilities with the bow and Blenkhorn shines again. Kelbie and Girardot provide a splendid rhythmic pulse throughout and the bassist enjoys a few moments in the limelight.
This pretty much sets the pattern for the record, a whimsical version of the song “Blues In The Night” is followed by the scorching instrumental “China Boy” taken at breakneck tempo. Marvellous.
I’m less keen on the arch vocalising on “Flamingo”, a number that strays a little too far into MOR and “novelty” territory. The following instrumental “Wes’s Tune” (Montgomery, presumably) comes as a welcome relief and features some excellent violin playing.
“Sam, Sam The Vegetable Man” is real novelty number but is so self consciously daft you can’t help but enjoy it. It evokes the spirit of the late Slim Gaillard but along with the zaniness there’s some dazzling playing and it’s all great fun. A langorous instrumental, “Oriental Shuffle”, brings things back down to earth.
Like “My Blue Heaven” “Heavy Date” also features other members of the quartet on backing vocals. The voices on “Heavy Date” recall the jump jive era even though the instrumentation is pure Hot Club with swinging solos from Washingmachine and Blenkhorn.
The next item “Solitude” is actually another vocal item. It is the album’s only ballad and Washingmachine’s fragile vocal is surprisingly effective. This reflective interlude is in stark contrast to the other material and this only serves to increase it’s poignancy.
It’s business as usual on the instrumental “Thats A Plenty”, a refreshingly brisk gallop in archetypal Reinhardt/Grappelli style. The final vocal item “He Ain’t Got Rhythm” bookends the album in enjoyable fashion.
The “Room 301 Sessions” is an enjoyable and unpretentious record that unashamedly seeks to entertain. Most of the time it does exactly that and I’m certain that the quartet’s live shows must be hugely enjoyable. Some of the vocal numbers may pall for the home listener after a while but the dazzling instrumental work largely makes up for this.
Another worthwhile offering from the Lejazzetal stable and one that casts a highly entertaining light on the Reinhardt legacy.