Group offers potion of sounds for tough times

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By Roger Snodgrass

This is a big week for Patrick Longmire, a guitar player whose main gig is geochemistry at Los Alamos National Laboratory. His band, the “Hot Club of Santa Fe,” will release its first CD Friday with a performance and party at the 2nd Street Brewery in Santa Fe.


Behind every band there are a few dozen stories, but one of the tip-offs about this one is the name “Hot Club,” a reference to the original “Quintette du Hot Club de France.”


That group was founded in 1934 by an unusually talented and influential gypsy guitarist born in Belgium, Django Reinhardt.


“Django and his music are more popular now than when he was alive,” Longmire said in an interview Monday.


Now there are festivals all over the country and the world. There are hot clubs in New York, San Francisco, Detroit, Phoenix and Colorado. Albuquerque has a Hot Club festival in October, where Longmire and the Hot Club of Santa Fe have appeared.


The Woody Allen movie, “Sweet and Lowdown” (1999), is about a guy who is supposed to be the best guitarist in the world, played by Sean Penn, whose idol is the hot club founder, Django Rheinhardt.


Longmire’s version of the legend, told with the reverence musicians have for those they consider virtuosos, celebrates Reinhardt as one of those naturals who could hear a melody one time and know how to play it.


“When he was still in his teens, his caravan caught on fire and the left side of his body was badly burned, including the fingers on his left hand,” Longmire said.


“When he started playing again with a badly deformed hand, he started playing this music, a mixture of gypsy and jazz, with heavy minor sixth chords, diminished chords. He listened to Louis Armstrong and tried to do on the guitar the kind of phrasing Armstrong did on the trumpet.”


Reinhardt got together with another famous musician, Stephen Grappelli, a classical violinist and their hot club quintet became a big hit during the Depression years before the Second World War.


Longmire and the group’s mandolin player Bob Gray go back a ways. They played in a few different bands together.


But Longmire said he realized point he wanted to try new.


The fiddle player, Grey Howell was already familiar with Django and Grappelli. Kent Scarborough, playing bass and sharing vocals with Bob Gray joined in.


Their first album is an ear-opener, not only by way of introducing the uninitiated to the fabulous classy, sassy gypsy jazz of Reinhardt, but also in its blend of blues, both western and classic swing and bluegrass, as a surprisingly related family of sounds and songs.


The music takes the listener straight to New Orleans, America’s only French outpost, on the way to the Smoky Mountains and back to Arcadia in the French-speaking provinces of Canada and back some more to the Flamenco of the European low-country.


The Hot Club’s music is peaceful yet intriguing and bountiful, with the exposed nerve-endings of the stringed instruments and the varied rhythms of the dance.


Of the passionate gypsy influence, Longmire recalled his pilgrimage to the 40th annual Django Reinhardt Festival in Samois sur Seine near Fountainbleau in France, where Reinhardt spent the last years of his life and where he was buried.


“These gypsies would come storming in and they would play like they only had five minutes left in their lives,” he said.


Longmire said he spent more than eight or nine months mixing the sound track for the CD and bring it back to the group for approval.


“If everybody agreed, we’d move on,” he said, “But that was pretty rare.”


Longmire’s father, Conrad Longmire, a nuclear weapons physicist who shared the prestigious Los Alamos Medal with Frank Harlow in 2004, also played bluegrass at barn dances with his brother in the 30s and 40s.


The release party for the Hot Club of Santa Fe’s new album, “Musique de la Ville Differente,” is from 6:30-9:30 p.m. Friday at the 2nd Street Brewery, 1814 2nd St., Santa Fe.