Dark and handsome, Mundo Juillerat warms up backstage at the Lounge in the Palms. His gypsy-jazz band Hot Club of Las Vegas is about to take the stage. Juillerat’s fingers flutter over the elegant neck of his Dell’Arte guitar as he rips through Hungarian scales. The exotic intervals conjure visions of a distant, ancient land, even as stagehands and musicians gently collide in a busy hallway.
His band—a fiery quintet rounded out by Cuban-born lead singer Noybel Gorgoy, percussionist Gabriel Santana Falcon, rhythm guitarist Marlow Valentin and bassist Chris Davis—is itself a sonic collision. Indeed, Hot Club (which performs at DjangoVegas! Festival on June 23), pushes the idea of a Strip-worthy lounge act into new terrain by looking backward for inspiration. The band takes its name from Django Reinhardt’s Quintette du Hot Club de France, a jazz group that changed the sound of recorded music before in the pre-World War II era. In some ways, Hot Club of Las Vegas is updating jazz locally by mixing in a vintage European approach.
This isn’t a covers or tribute act. Juillerat and Co. perform original songs, an achievement that few bands performing on the Strip can realize. Sure, Hot Club’s new sophomore disc, Summer Score, offers a scorching interpretation of Sting’s “She’s Too Good for Me.” But it’s the band’s own material—pyrotechnical instrumental “Bossa Mundo,” the haunting ballad “The Way You Say My Name”—that shines.
Hot Club isn’t just edgy in their musical approach; they also pen nifty topical lyrics. The ukulele-flavored “Dear Jean,” for instance, pokes fun at The Bachelorette.
“In the wake of all these so-called reality shows, we went for a cynical take on love,” Juillerat says. “We like the idea of referencing the Dear John letter speech a woman contestant gives guys when she lets them go after knowing them for 30 seconds.”
“Bye Bye,” meanwhile, applies a beautiful yet bitter kiss-off of the One-Percenters and the banking policies that reward them at the remainder’s expense.
“Really, though, it’s about a girl trying to survive bad men and a bad economy,” Juillerat explains. “She basically tells the listener that she’s going to do what she wants anyway, despite all the challenges and setbacks.”
By writing new songs, Hot Club introduces something new to the standard repertoire. Gypsy-jazz ensembles typically rely on the same two dozen songs on which musicians can jam out. Hot Club, however, wrote 12 songs for Summer Score (which was recorded in Juillerat’s home studio in Henderson), even if they ultimately settled on the best seven.
“I think Hot Club is on to something,” says Larry English, hanging out backstage. The former president of the consumer division at U.S. Music (the parent company of Washburn Guitars), English is a fan and believes Hot Club has reached a critical moment. “They’re really defining who they are, I think, with a fascinating take on gypsy jazz.”
The approach is working. The Lounge’s candlelit cocktail tables are standing room only. Hot Club steps onstage and ignites the crowd with the harmonically complex and very jazzy “The Way You Say My Name.” Despite the song’s myriad chords, singer Gorgoy makes it sound like a Todd Rundgren pop ballad. Despite the band’s success at the Lounge, Hot Club relies on corporate gigs to pay their expenses. Is there a showroom that can support them? “I think so,” Juillerat says. “While we’re musically complex at times, we set out to create an accessible sound that can work in different musical settings.”