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Gypsy Gathering

One of my most diverting surprises along my life’s journey into roots music and bluegrass was discovering the sub cult within Americana that loves the Gypsy jazz of Django Reinhardt. It was revelatory to know that decades before Doc Watson and Jimi Hendrix there was a guitar player as fiery and finessed as the three fingered Frenchman, who revolutionized his instrument before dying at the tragically young age of 43. The music had its own remarkable vocabulary and vibe, and more courageous bluegrass pickers and fiddlers love jamming on its repertoire, such as “Minor Swing” and “Swing 42.” One of the most notable contemporary practitioners of the spiky, speedy sound is playing our show this week, and while he’s bringing his bluegrass band to Roots, John Jorgenson is never far from the shadow of Django. We’ve also got a band called Gipsy Moon so, thinking about Wednesday night put me in a mood manouche.

Of course John Jorgenson can play and has played just about every style of guitar there is at master level. He’s toured the world many times over with Elton John. He helped pioneer country rock with the Desert Rose Band and he took twang to shredding electric heights with The Hellecasters. He’s been a studio sideman for legions of legends and a collaborator with other guitar geniuses such as Tommy Emmanuel. A couple of years ago, Jorgenson released the epic Divertuoso, which is the kind of word I like to make up, encompassing his range and passion for all kinds of music. The three-CD collection was one third Gypsy jazz (including his orchestral masterwork Istiqbal Gathering), one third his electric jazz band and one third his bluegrass band, sometimes known as J2B2. Music City Roots was proud to be the launch pad for this quartet some years ago at the Loveless. Now the guys are back, including country rock legend Herb Pedersen on banjo.

Tony Furtado is a self proclaimed American Gypsy, as testified on his amazing 2004 album of that title. He’s ranged and rambled across American roots styles, always with consummate skill and reverence for the originators and a sense of wanting to make the music his way. I latched on to Tony in the early 1990s, when he was a new star of new acoustic and hot bluegrass banjo. Signed to Rounder Records when he was just about 20 years old, he sounded to me like an earthier Bela Fleck. I loved his banjo projects so much (1994’s Full Circle was a big one) that I was actually kind of sad when he turned his attention to slide guitar and songwriting in a blues folk idiom. That quickly dispelled hearing the smoldering opening “Oh Berta, Berta” on that American Gypsy release. It just doesn’t matter what he does, it’s going to be tasty and lyrical (I find lots of resonance with Tim O’Brien) and darkly bluesy with a zest for groove. The Portland, Oregon musician has released an exceptional catalog that deserves a top to bottom re-assessment by roots music fans who don’t know him. He’s one of our masters and at last he’s swinging by to play a set on Roots.

Now Gipsy Moon spells the word a little differently (apparently both gypsy and gipsy are legit) and it’s not a strict Gypsy jazz band or a strict anything. But that’s because they’re a string band from Nederland, CO, the origin point for the great mountain-grass explosion that brought us Leftover Salmon, Yonder Mountain and many others. The freedom and mountain air conspire to make pickers of all ages and persuasions imagine new ways to express themselves on mandolins, guitars and cellos. And you might have seen this quintet doing just that in shared bills with MCR alum bands Elephant Revival, Greensky Bluegrass and the Infamous Stringdusters. Salmon’s Vince Herman is a fan, blurbing: "Gipsy Moon is an acoustic love cannon blasting a new generation's invitation to the dance of life.” Peace out, brah.

Rejoicing will also attend the arrival of Curtis McMurtry, who’s emerging as one of the nation’s most original and even intellectual songwriters. Yes, he’s the son of song master James and grandson of novelist Larry, so let’s just get that Texas lineage out of the way. More to the point, Curtis is making a fusion of formal collegiate music training in composing and a sensitivity for the work of Billy Strayhorn and Leonard Cohen (this is from his bio not my uncanny insightfulness, to give credit where it’s due). All I can tell you is that the music is fascinating, with asymmetries and harmonic shifts that elevate and amplify its beauty. His new album The Hornet’s Nest is high-concept but still rootsy. No mean feat.

Music City Roots will be one hot club this Wednesday.

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