Jazz aficionados descended on downtown Vegas to hear groups play tribute to the music of legendary gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt—the world’s first iconic sex-string shredder. As expected, there were plenty of instrumental pyrotechnics, but there was some dazzling singing, too, thanks to opening act Hot Club of Las Vegas and its extraordinary vocalist Noybel Gorgoy. Hot Club heated up a packed hall with the strongest cuts from their new Django-inspired CD Summer Score—including a struttin’ take on Amy Winehouse’s pop number “You Know I’m No Good.”
Oakland, Calif.’s Fishtank Ensemble, meanwhile, took a broader tact with a quirkier, world music-influenced approach. Sexy, half-shirted soprano frontwoman Ursula Knudsen delighted the male half of the audience (and a good percentage of the females, too) with her violin sawing and vibrato delivery of songs such as “Woman in Sin.” The band ultimately reminds me of a friskier, more musically adventurous cross between DeVotchKa and Squirrel Nut Zippers, which is a good thing.
Finally, rising star Gonzalo Bergara introduced a taste of gitano Argentina to the stage. Backed by a stand-up bassist and rhythm guitarist (and later by a violinist), he plowed through a shred-tastic set that incited a still-sizable audience to applaud after each blistering, tango-infused solo. How great is Bergara? He and his band jumped on a plane to France afterward to play the world’s biggest gypsy jazz fest in Samois.
Indeed, what I had expected to be a musty and moderately attended event put on by the city’s Cultural Affairs Office and the Las Vegas Jazz Society turned out to be deeply artistic, successful and full of raw gypsy heart. ★★★★☆