Christine Tassan et les Imposteures

Christine Tassan et les Imposteures

Concert Review: Toe-tapping gypsy jazz at its joyful best

Review of the North Okanagan Community Concert presentation of Christine Tassan et les Imposteures.

That billing (toe-tapping gypsy jazz at its joyful best), describing Christine Tassan et les Imposteures in the North Okanagan Community Concert Association’s program notes, was accurate to the letter.

My neighbour wasn’t the only one tapping more than her toes at Sunday’s concert at the Performing Arts Centre. One audience member was heard to remark, in reference to Tassan’s skips across the frets of her acoustic guitar, “She doesn’t have arthritis in those fingers; that’s for sure!” Another comment, maybe more pedestrian but equally emphatic: “That was great fun!” And it was.

Sunday’s program featured Tassan on Django Reinhardt-style guitar, Martine Gaumond on Stéphane Grappelli-style violin and Blanche Baillargeon on electric double bass.

Baillargeon’s less portable acoustic bass remained in Montreal, as did fourth imposteure, rhythm guitarist Lise-Anne Ross, who was unable to accompany the others on their three-week tour of Western Canada.

As it was impossible to find a female replacement adept at playing gypsy jazz, un imposteur, conspicuous by his gender, had to be found.

So, Ivan Garzón, a Mexican despite his Russian-sounding name, stood in. Whether pronounced “Garrrrthon” (Mexican/Spanish), “Garzzzon” (Russian/French) or “the guy in the red shirt” (Canadian), Garzón blended in perfectly.  The fact that he didn’t join the women in their glorious harmonies and delightful dance steps was understandable, but it would have been nice to have seen him shine in his own right with perhaps the odd 16-bar solo.

Maybe les girls were getting back at les boys for being non-inclusive. Playing gypsy jazz has been, after all, a male preserve. Tassan explained, in winsome French nuance, that when she and les Imposteures (including Lise-Anne Ross) played at the gypsy jazz Festival de Django Reinhardt last year, they were the first females ever to do so. The festival is held each June in Reinhardt’s hometown, Samois-sur-Seine near Fontainebleau, just south of Paris.  It began in 1968 and became an annual event in 1984 – a long time to be dominated entirely by male players.

Ironically, there were few Reinhardt/Grappelli arrangements in Sunday’s program and Tassan’s own compositions graced much of it.

The first half opened with her Délit de fruite (Hit and Run) and closed with her C’est l’heure de l’apéro (Happy Hour).  She also wrote La Mauresque (ode to a cocktail in the south of France), which opened the second half, and Un rom à Cuba when Baillargeon’s long fingers bossa nova-ed along the arm of her fascinating bass instrument and Gaumond’s fingers moved so quickly it was difficult to see them.

However, my favourite song of the evening was written by Sting (alias Gordon Sumner).  I find the lyrics of his Fragile: “nothing comes from violence; nothing ever could” and “how fragile we are” compelling, particularly when sung with the pure, honest, beautiful simplicity of Tassan, in the company of such versatile musicians as les Imposteures.

Their finale, Tzigane (Those Were the Days), described by Tassan as a Russian folk song sung in French with English notes, begged an encore.  Les Imposteures obliged with Sweet Georgia Brown.

They hardly needed the imaginative stage lighting to enhance their witty outfits, right down to their red toe-tapping shoes.  Student vocalist Jenae Van Gameren also wore red shoes and embraced l’esprit français by opening the evening with a French lament. She will join other talented young artists, of all disciplines, auditioning for NOCCA’s showcase presentation on Jan. 31.

Garzón, however, wore black shoes. But, as bassist Baillargeon quipped, he looked cute, and what’s a pair of black shoes in an evening of toe-tapping gypsy jazz at its joyful best?

Christine Pilgrim is a freelance writer who reviews the North Okanagan Community Concert Association series for The Morning Star.