Despite their rather intriguing birth from pornographic film scoring, Caravan Palace has introduced the French jazz scene to a refreshing flavor of upbeat electro swing jazz with their self-titled Caravan Palace (2008). This eclectic collaboration of musicians adds an interesting dubstep-esque harmonic accompaniment to the traditional gypsy jazz guitar music pioneered by Django Reinhardt. One would think these two genres would combine inharmoniously; however, Caravan Palace uses its bass drops and low-end acoustics tastefully, and so retains the traditional feel.
The striking album artwork (depicting a tin-man holding a vinyl LP above an old-style phonograph) will attract collectors to pick up the album, but it is the first two tracks “Dragons” and “Star Scat” that solidify the listeners’ love for this innovative musicianship. Arnaud Vial’s Freddie Green-style guitar begins the first track, and, with accents from Hugues Payin on violin, introduces the gypsy jazz theme. Quickly the song develops into frenzy as Charles Delaporte drops in on bass with electronic synthesizers overtop. The second track, “Star Scat,” throws the listener for a loop with a thematic dubstep interpretation of Louis Armstrong’s scat singing (later made still more famous by greats like Ella Fitzgerald) and features sliding melodic unisons on the violin and clarinet played by Camille Chapelière.
“Despite an innovative approach, Caravan Palace stays true to its gypsy jazz origins. The rest of the album is a surprising mix of rhythmic changes between cool jazz and hard-pressing boppy tunes. The ethereal voice of Colotis Zoé adds an interesting twist to many a song with her incredible range, quick vibrato, and full-bodied tones.”
Caravan Palace builds the listener’s intrigue with hit tracks such as “Je M’Amuse,” the single “Jolie Coquine,” and the up-tempo “Brotherswing.” While the lyrics may leave a bit to be desired, the melodic and jazzy improvisations of Payin, Chapelière, and Vial do not. They have a keen awareness of when and how to fill space and accentuate vocals or solos.
Caravan Palace keeps it lively and intriguing, and their self-titled debut will make any gathering exciting, whether you are waving your finger at a sock hop dance to offbeat gypsy rhythms or indulging in a cool, relaxing glass of wine at the poolside. If you like what you hear, their much-anticipated follow-up Panic (2013) has just been released on Wagram. Keep an ear open for this group — their new beats mixed with traditional stylings are certain to be top-charters in the future.