Feb 14 - 20, 2008 
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Listening Room

Le Chat Lunatique’s Demonic Lovely Gives Dancers and Listeners Cause for Celebration

CD captures the verve, swing and musicality of this “filthy, mangy jazz” quartet

By Mel Minter
The lads of Le Chat Lunatique
Demian Ginther
The lads of Le Chat Lunatique

The appeal of Le Chat Lunatique’s live performances owes as much to its bandmates patter and seriocomic stage presence as it does to their music—and the music is damn good. They’ve managed to translate that appeal to their new studio CD, Demonic Lovely, without visual or verbal aids. The music and the commitment with which it is played, it turns out, are really what it’s all about, whether you’re on the dance floor or sinking into a sofa.

Featuring 16 original tracks that clock in at just under 74 minutes, Demonic Lovely offers a generous helping of the band’s determined commingling, which blends gypsy jazz (the group’s original inspiration was Le Hot Club de France), musette, Western swing, Italian traditional, klezmer, country, doo-wop, reggae and “anything else we damn well please,” as guitarist John Sandlin once said.

It’s a lot of music—from corybantic ecstasies to deep-souled lamentations—with few weak spots and a lot of surprises from four accomplished players: Sandlin, Muni Kulasinghe (violin), Jared Putnam (bass) and Fernando Garavito (drums), with help from accordionist Debo Orlofsky on one track. Seamless segues, smart track sequencing and judicious use of studio techniques add to the listenability.

When there are lyrics, as surprising as some of the musical twists, they add a devilishly clever and literate dimension.

One advantage of the studio is being able to double Sandlin on lead and rhythm. In either role, his downright nasty rhythmic sensibility can make your heart skip a beat. Kulasinghe’s double-stopped fire, lascivious melancholy and theatrical vocals are LCL hallmarks. The energetic Putnam, a sly vocalist himself, slaps the bottom in place, but he can bow, too (his bowed solo on “Tarantella a la Schwinkter” is delightfully ponderous, a bear dancing). Then there’s the crisp, steady groove supplied by Garavito, the group’s Ringo. Together they create an inimitable sound.

Most of the tunes—five each from Kulasinghe and Sandlin, six from Putnam—are well-constructed little gems that propagate earworms for ongoing pleasure. When there are lyrics, as surprising as some of the musical twists, they add a devilishly clever and literate dimension. Much of their material can hold its own against the standards the band plays live.

High points include “Devil’s Lucre” (JS), sort of a “Three Blind Mice” on absinthe; “miss lady” (MK), an arch delectation of helpless heartbreak; and the noir humor of “Millionairess” (JP).

The boys took a lot of care with this recording. The trick of it is, they make it all seem effortlessly fun—and it is, for listener and dancer alike.

 
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