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Swingin' Into the Big Time 

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Mango fan Django
Virtual Tourist
Archtop Eddy Records

Ever since bursting on the scene last year as the area's only trio dedicated to guitar-focused, French gypsy jazz, Mango fan Django members have been handing out CDs the group has burned of informal studio and live concert sessions.

But, now, the three-piece string band has released its first official, in-the-studio-for-real-this-time CD, titled after an original tune by guitarist Ed Parsons called "Virtual Tourist," a catchy reggae instrumental bit laced with a certain jazzy je ne sais quoi.

The 13-cut recording shows not only an expanded repertoire of classics from French gypsy-jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt -- the group's inspiration and specialty -- it reveals that the group is maturing rapidly into one of the areas hottest local swing groups.

Though the band is not as fluid or virtuosic as some of the great gypsy-jazz groups of Europe and America's larger cities, Virtual Tourist shows that Mango fan Django is a serious candidate for the position of Rocky Mountain rep for the sound of the Hot Club de Paris (the club where Django brought gypsy jazz to world attention in the 1930s).

More importantly, this is just really fun, beautifully played music that will make you dance as you mop the kitchen floor, clean the basement or vacuum the cobwebs off the living-room ceiling.

If everyone on the LA freeways listened to this music, traffic would flow at a consistent 55 mph, and motorists would leave a full, five car-lengths between them and the car up ahead. They would smile and slow down as they waved fellow motorists to take the place in front of them.

Though Django can play bluesy, relective pieces, his music is mostly known for its unapologetic joyousness. The few originals that grace the CD -- from guitarists Alain Le Lait and Ed Parsons -- add to the good humor.

Consider these deep thoughts from Parsons' "Jive Jive Jive":

Long ago Neanderthal
was hunting for woolly mo
skipped a beat between his feet
poking a stick into his joe
Took it home to neanderwoman
Who dried it in the sun
dropped it in the manus stew
and man they were having fun

Le Lait comes on board with a jumpy instrumental called "Utma the Humming Poodle," as well as a nicely harmonized tune in French called "Margarita," a Spanish and Caribbean-influenced tune that sounds like it came out of Hollywood circa 1943.

Like much of the retro-swing emerging in the last decade, the music harkens back to a time when radios had tubes, and overdressed guys and gals held each other close when they danced.

Luckily, unlike many retro swing bands of the day, these guys don't overdo it with the shtick, focusing more on the music than hats and hair cream.

On bass, Gerard Rouvenacht pushes the beat through clever arpeggios and scales with both speed and tone, showing he's come a long way since throwing himself fully behind the stand-up acoustic only about a year ago.

Rouvenacht has also mastered the art of the slurred glissando, sliding from downbeat to downbeat with wonderful affect. Meanwhile, both Le Lait and Parsons have improved both the clarity and expressiveness of their melodic lines, which were pretty darn good to begin with.

This is particularly true on slower tunes, such as Django's "Anouman," a relatively new piece for this group. All three musicians play sensitively, but they keep a certain crisp edge, revelling in their dynamic range and avoiding the kind of watered down, even-toned sound that many gypsy-jazz groups seem to think is desirable.

But even people who don't know much about gypsy jazz will like this locally produced CD. I was already a big fan of MFD before this CD; now I've just got one more reason to sing their praises.

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