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A memorable evening of Gypsy Jazz & more with Tcha Limberger and Denis Chang (review)

Tcha Limberger ©Brett Delmage, 2014

Tcha Limberger and Denis Chang
NECTAR (the New Edinburgh Community and Arts Centre)
Thursday, November 13, 2014 - 7 p.m.

View photos of this evening

Even arriving early on a cold winter night, you could hear the jazz. Shining violin and bright guitar music was spilling out of the room where the musicians were warming up, lively jazz standards that only increased the anticipation of the audience members waiting in the hall.

This all-acoustic concert featured Flemish-Gypsy prodigy Tcha Limberger on violin and occasional guitar, along with Montrealers Denis Chang and William Dickerson on guitar. It was billed as gypsy jazz – and there was certainly lots of that. But, the music covered a wider range, also not surprising given that Limberger's own musical interests go well beyond that genre.

Limberger is descended from a long line of Romany musicians on his father's side, several of whom are renowned in European Manouche circles and helped revive Gypsy jazz in the last 50 years. The trio opened with a piece which was composed by his uncle and grand-uncle, Fapy Lafertin and Biske Limberger. Chang said it was about old-style gypsy life: a bit clichéd but “very nicely put”. Sung in Romany, it was upbeat with a touch of nostalgia with lots of interplay between the violin and guitars.

Then followed a series of Gypsy jazz pieces, by several Manouche composers including Django Reinhardt. They ranged from bright and sharp, to sweet and romantic, to a waltz reminiscent of New Orleans, to a song about desperate love.

Besides bowing his violin, Limberger also occasionally played it pizzicato with his thumb, echoing the infectious rhythms from the guitars: in either case, his playing was fluid and assured and joyous. Similarly, Chang showed an easy familiarity with the repertoire and the style and played with lots of energy and verve, well supported by Dickerson on rhythm guitar (and occasional solo).

Their song choices were notably different from the standard Manouche repertoire: a wider range of styles and more vocals in Romany, by both Limberger and Chang, sung separately and in harmony. Near the end of the first set, they went further afield, with Chang handing his guitar over to Limberger for him to sing and play solo. He performed a song of love lost in English, in the style of a jazz standard – and including mouth-organ-style wordless vocals.

He followed that with explaining to the audience how he discovered the music of Hungary and realized that in order to really understand it, he needed to move to Budapest and learn the language. He sang and played a song in that language, with a heartfelt vocal and fluid guitar. The trio ended their first, hour-long set with “Some of These Days”, fast and emotional, featuring dramatic violin passages and fast, flexible guitar, which got the audience clapping along.

In the second set, the trio played a song which Limberger had been told was a Gypsy religious song – until he put it up on YouTube and was congratulated for his performance of the Israeli national anthem! The song has, in fact, passed through many nationalities, he said, and the trio gave it a full-bodied representation, filling the room with music, that garnered strong applause. That was followed by an equally-well-received but more upbeat piece, all about getting drunk and wasted – which Chang said was ironic given that neither he nor Limberger drinks and Limberger is a vegetarian.

Partway through, the trio invited Justin Duhaime, the Ottawa guitarist who organized the concert, up to play. He sat in for Chang for a performance of the jazz standard “All of Me”, in which Duhaime, Limberger, and Dickerson traded off the lead and added considerable improvisation around the original melody. Two more local guitarists sat in on the next number, Christian Flores (from the local Gypsy Jazz group Django Libre) and Joseph Crowley, for an enthusiastic version of “It Had to be You”.

The show ended with the trio playing an instrumental Moldavian piece, very fast with vibrating violin – a high-energy close to a memorable concert. The audience, which had been enthusiastic throughout, gave the trio an immediate standing ovation. And then they came up to talk and chat, and play with the musicians, borrowing guitars for impromptu lessons/jams. Near the end, a violinist borrowed Limberger's instrument and, after a long technical discussion of bows and string choices, they played a classical piece together with Limberger on guitar.

This was the first concert at this artist and community centre in New Edinburgh, according to Duhaime. The acoustics were excellent: the medium-sized room was extremely quiet with no appreciable traffic or HVAC noise. It allowed the highly-attentive audience, which filled the room, to really appreciate the music – and the chance to hear a musician whom they might not see again for years.

    – Alayne McGregor

The Denis Chang Gypsy Jazz Quartet with Tcha Limberger (an expanded version of the group who performed in Ottawa) will play:

  • November 15: Peterborough, Ontario
  • November 16: Lindsay, Ontario
  • November 19: Granby, Québec

Read the interview with Denis Chang and Tcha Limberger: Tcha Limberger and Denis Chang: a passion for finding the sources of Gypsy jazz

All photos © Brett Delmage, 2014