Zen and the art of Ameranouche 


click to enlarge Ameranouche: The missing link between Django Reinhardt and The Spinners.
  • Ameranouche: The missing link between Django Reinhardt and The Spinners.

Gypsy-flamenco-swing trio Ameranouche's warm earthy sound defies easy description. If trying to capture the music's essence is a little like dancing about architecture, then speaking with guitarist Richard Sheppard about it is like gargling about tai chi.

"Everything that's positive expands in a positive way, and that's what were trying to do," explains founding member Sheppard during a snack break on their way to the Exit 0 Jazz Fest in New Jersey. "Of course we just left a bakery, so I might be expanding a little more myself."

Formed a dozen years ago, the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, combo are a loose-limbed generally instrumental blend of hot sy jazz, smoky Latin rhythms and old school swing in vacillating concentrations. Think of them as a groovier, lower-key Squirrel Nut Zippers rocking a Left Bank café in the wee morning hours.

When the band comes to Colorado Springs next week as the special guest at the Loft's Wednesday Night Swing Dance, they'll be sharpening the focus of their musical vocabulary.

"We're going to vary our repertoire that night and do more swing-oriented stuff for sure, and some tango and bossa nova," Sheppard says. "The idea being we can try to bring the same possibility of connection with people that are dancing and enjoying each other."

For the New Age-inclined Sheppard, his music and its audience are just vibrations on a continuum, ripples in the passage from here to there, a trip he makes for the experience not the outcome. Since he was a child, sound has intrigued him with its never-ending possibilities.

"Connecting with sound, and the vibration of the universe, is a very spiritual journey that one takes in this life," he says. "It's not really a decision that one makes, and it's not something that just occurs. It's kind of like an ever-present and ever-burgeoning awakening."

If Sheppard is still metaphorically wiping the sleep from his eyes, Ameranouche's music is fully present and of the moment. Teamed with guitarist Jack Soref and bassist Michael Harrist, the trio's driven by an improvisational jazz aesthetic, responding to each other with no one truly following or leading.

"We collectively play together," he explains. "It's not that they're backing me up or I'm backing up Jack or Michael. It's that we're playing together in the moment — or, in the moments."

Last year Ameranouche released their fifth album, Sun Shine Soul, which broadened their already wide-ranging sonic ambitions. The disc includes the traditional 19th century Ottoman Turkish tune "Hicaz Mandira," Django Reinhardt's "Rythme Futur" and even a cover of the Spinners' classic "Could It Be I'm Falling in Love."

There's an earthy vibrancy to Ameranouche's songs that pairs the tender immediacy of flamenco with the populist warmth of gypsy jazz. Sheppard says that gypsy culture's inclusivity is reflected in the nature of its music.

"That's the beauty of Roma culture: They are inviting," he says. "You are to be a part of the collective rather than an 'us versus them' thing."


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