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The Viper Club: Tain’t No Use



The Viper Club: Tain't No Use
The Viper Club photograph by Zoé Forget courtesy of the artists

More than a decade ago, pulling no punches and taking no prisoners in an interview in The Guardian, the violin virtuoso Nigel Kennedy lamented about: “the ‘protocol’ training by music colleges, which ‘doesn’t actually help people use their brains or their ears – two important factors in music’”. He said: “A lot of classical musicians are steered away from that in order to learn ‘the method’. How many talented young kids are going into these colleges nowadays all over the world? How many come out speaking as an individual?”

Mr Kennedy went on to say: “Jazz greats such as Coleman Hawkins, Fats Waller and Louis Armstrong didn’t have these lessons. They just learned from experience. Then they got something completely unique … whereas now we’ve got factory lines of pianists and violinists coming out.” Speaking of jazz, it’s highly unlikely that Mr Kennedy would have categorized these musicians – trumpeter Jérôme Etcheberry, multi-instrumentalist Tcha Limberger, contrabassist Sébastian Giradot and, of course, the guitarist Dave Kelbie – coming together here as the Viper Club to evoke the celebrated partnership of Stuff Smith and Jonah Jones whose “joyous, inventive music making as the Onyx Club,” Garth Cartwright’s booklet notes tell us “opened-up the sound of swing in the mid-to-late 1930s.”

The Viper Club: Tain’t No Use is a tribute to the music of Stuff Smith and Jonah Jones

It also seems unlikely that aficionados of the great 17-track conspectus of swing repertory preserved for posterity by virtuoso musicians such as Stuff Smith and Jonah Jones – indeed repertory played by Louis Armstrong, and a host of other legends of the art of jazz of that era. It is also a fact that musicians who came after the so-called Swing Era, who refused to budge from spreading the unabashed joy in swing-time were referred to – deprecatorily – as “moldy figs”. But again, in the words of Mr Kennedy: “How many came out speaking as an individual?” The answer is, of course, all of the musicians who play this timeless music not only speak, but in terms of poetics “sing” this music in the own grand and inimitable manner, both individually and collectively, as the Viper Club on the album Tain’t No Use.

The recording is scintillating and immediate. The technique is, quite simply, flawless – even polished. Every solo played by Mr Etcheberry sounds as if he pours out his lines rather than play them. The result is that melodically, his playing gleams and flows like molten metal. Mr Limberger – heard here on the violin is a virtuoso non pareil – certainly not only evocative, but in the same realm of Mr Smith, Stephane Grapelli and other great virtuoso violinists to have graced that swing era. For the record he has one of the most singularly exciting voices in recent memory – both as a violinist and a vocalist, his phrasing [like that of Mr Armstrong] is the very definition of liquid beauty. Mr Giradot and Mr Kelbie are the power behind the rhythm. Both are experts in time.

Mr Kelbie is a special kind of guitarist. And what is so special about his performances? Where the virtuosity of the playing,  the keen sense of collaboration and the close attention to dynamics and subtle shifts in phrasing create a compelling impression. It is noticeable that even in songs requiring fast or slow tempi [cue the glorious S’Wonderful, which provides a shining example of both] he is not only masterful but truly expressive [especially in the second half of the song]. When Mr Kelbie unpacks his guitar and strikes up the band he, quite simply, obviates the need for a drummer. Together with Mr Giradot and Mr Limberger – with [both of] whom he shares a particularly empathetic relationship. In so many ways he is the reincarnation of Joseph “Nin-Nin” Reinhardt.

This collection of songs exemplifies the sparkle and wit of an era that we could all do with today. From music such as Mr Smith’s Onyx Club spree to I’m crazy ‘bout my baby by Fats Waller, all-but-forgotten gems such as My Walking Stick by Irving Berlin, Wabash Blues by Dave Ringel and Fred Meinken recordings don’t come more sparkling than this. This is like a buried treasure of a music box that comes alive from the past but with variations at every turn played by a quartet that tinkles and glides along in the most elegant manner right up to the time when the Viper Club goes for broke with a high-spirited finale in the form of After You’ve Gone  by the legendary Turner Layton and Henry Creamer. This is the proverbial album to die for…

Deo gratis…

The Viper Club promotional video

Music – 1: Lawd you made the night too long; 2: Onyx Club spree; 3: Ballin’ the jack; 4: Tain’t no use; 5: I’m putting all my eggs in one basket; 6: I hope Gabriel likes my music; 7: Smoke rings; 8: Baby Brown; 9: Undecided; 10: My Blue Heaven; 11: Swanee river; 12: I’m crazy ’bout my baby; 13: Viper’s moan; 14: ‘S wonderful; 15: My walking stick; 16: Wabash Blues; 17: After you’ve gone.

Musicians – Jérôme Etcheberry: trumpet; Tcha Limberger: violin and vocals; Sébastian Giradot: contrabass; Dave Kelbie: guitar.

Released – 2023
Label – Camille Productions [MS072023CD]
Runtime – 1:01:33

Based in Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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