By Allegra Heckman and Ityen Aznarez
Talent, Oregon. Last week, at the Paschal Winery and Vineyard in Talent, Oregon, the quintet Pearl Django played an intimate 2 sets to a full house of appreciative patrons. The show was part of the Fall concert series produced by the Siskiyou Music Project, an institute that provides opportunities for residents and visitors of Southern Oregon to enjoy and appreciate a full spectrum of high quality music through live performance and education.
Founded in 1994 as a trio by guitarists Neil Anderson and Dudley Hill, along with bassist David “Pope” Firman, Pearl Django has grown and morphed over the years into a quintet. Performing at this event were Michael Gray, violin, Rick Leppanen, double bass, David Lange, accordion, and Ryan Hoffman and Troy Chapman on guitar.
Their musical style and songbook, heavily influenced by the sounds of the great Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli blended with American Swing music was on full display as they plucked and strummed away through their diverse melodic repertoire.
The opening set began in style with a sophisticated rendition of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile,” featuring the intricate leads of guitarist Ryan Hoffman. Other songs included “Recado Bossa Nova,” “The Prozac of Muzak” (one of several originals), “Endless Fields of Green” (about the Isle of Wight) and “Something Borrowed” (from a new album, written by Rick Leppanen). “Grisology,” a jam band style tune in honor of David Grisman, producer of the Grateful Dead, was introduced by the violinists, who told the audience to “feel free to do the Grateful Dead dance.”
The second set was no less distinguished than the last as people loosened up with fine wine. As we digested the multitudes of passions and emotions of the driven melodies and rhythm, our MC fiddle player, found cause for humor in Oregon’s newly legal plant medical marijuana. After we all shared some laughs about pot brownies the band erupted into the song “Djangology,” written by Ryan Hoffman.
“A day in the life of a fool ,” a Parisian traditional song, was one of the few performed that was not an original. “Bistro du Stache” was described by the violinist as a smoke filled bistro in Paris where they played. Several of the songs performed were from their twelfth CD titled Time Flies; among them “System D Swing” also written by Hoffman.
The players expressed effortless sportsmanship taking turns with their freestyle solos That’s when Ed Dunsavage, our host and program producer, joined in the fun on his guitar. He began with a beautiful solo intro smoothly transitioning with the entire band. On the next song “Eleventh Hour” they joked that they were clearly new at playing with Ed, yet from our perspective they seemed like old friends.
We had a chance to have a small chat with violinist Michael Gray afterwards, who described his musicians’ life, playing the Jazz Alley in Seattle almost a hundred times and planning a cross country tour over the next year. It was an honor to experience this musical journey, which kept us at the edge of our seats in excitement, the perfect ending to this memorable evening.
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Photos by Ityen Aznarez