Sometimes you just want to pull on a comfy old woollen jumper, preferably a well-loved handmade hand-me-down, expertly knitted with timeless style. The debut from Django Collective Helsinki is the musical equivalent. These five master musicians sound like they’ve been playing together for a long time (almost a decade), and thoroughly enjoy it. You will too, most likely. Hard to imagine anyone resisting this cheerful gypsy swing, recorded live in a nineteenth-century wooden schoolhouse.
The group’s name and most of its repertoire stem from Roma guitarist Django Reinhardt, who led the Quintette du Hot Club de France in the 1930s and '40s with violinist Stéphane Grappelli. Most of these songs were played by Reinhardt (though he only wrote one of them, Mabel), and date back to the years before and during the Second World War, with a couple going back to the nineteenth century. These are time-honoured melodies that have comforted many generations through wars, financial turmoil and epidemics before – and still have that power.
Like the Quintette, this group features three guitarists and a bassist along with a violinist, the eloquent Laura Airola. She also plays in a string quartet that expands the ensemble’s sound on tracks such as Charlie Chaplin’s Smile. Even if you’ve heard it 1,000 times, the tune still raises a smile in this bittersweet version. Airola sizzles on the toe-tapping Limehouse Blues and turns tender on Où es-tu mon amour?, which is reminiscent of some Finnish pelimanni folk tunes but swings and floats in a way that they rarely do.
Most of the fiery guitar solos are by Aki Hauru, who also did the bulk of the arrangements, as well as the recording, mixing, mastering, even the photos and design. He adds a slightly more modern touch to Jardin d’hiver, with fluid guitar lines reminiscent of jazz guitarist George Benson, whose rest-stroke picking technique was influenced by Reinhardt.
The gentle Jardin d’hiver is the only contemporary tune here, written by French singers Benjamin Biolay and Keren Ann in 2000. It’s been recorded by various pop and jazz artists in France but is still on its way to becoming a standard. Here’s looking forward to more fresh tunes and originals from this talented group the next time around.
DJANGO COLLECTIVE HELSINKI: Do Standards
Django Collective Helsinki
Laura Airola: violin
Aki Hauru: guitar
Kimmo Iltanen: guitar
Tomi Kettunen: guitar
Tero Tuovinen: bass
Pasi Eerikäinen: 1st violin
Laura Airola: 2nd violin
Mauri Kuokkanen: viola
Riikka Lampinen: cello