Gismo Graf Trio

Others received their driver’s license when they reached the age of majority, and the guitarist Gismo Graf was given a band that bears his name on this occasion: On October 1, 2010, his 18th birthday, the first concert of the Gismo Graf Trio took place at the Guitar Festival in Wehr. Not that Graf had not already gained a lot of experience: At six, playing guitar, under the guidance of his father Joschi, who himself is an excellent, renowned gypsy guitarist and co-founder of the Zigeli Winter Quintet. At the age of twelve, Gismo made his first public appearances in his father’s band, at 16 the first band of his own 16 Gypsy Strings. With this band, Gismo made a name for himself as the future star guitarist of the Gypsy Swing, as one who can dress the Gypsy Jazz in a new guise and transport it into the present day – only logical that this name could then appear in the band name.

If you read the date of the first performance carefully, you can see that the band is entering its tenth year. Reason enough to review the time in which the Gismo Graf Trio had a permanent place in the gypsy jazz scene and Graf himself a top position among the Sinti guitarists in the tradition of Django Reinhardt: With the album “A Trio’s Decade ”- already the fifth of the band – this anniversary it not only celebrated, it also presents the own modern style that Graf developed during this time and gives a glimpse of the highlights that will come in the future. The 28-year-old from Stuttgart has long emancipated himself from the classic hot jazz canon and is following his own contemporary path within the genre.

The first piece of “A Trio’s Decade” makes it impressively clear: In “Skiszo” he frames a fast blues, almost from the Gypsy Swing Lexicon surprisingly into a cheerful melody that sounds like a summery Italian canzone. Just as unusual are the three variations in which he almost whirls his “Stockholm Weekend Waltz” as it was for the Vienna Opera Ball. In the title piece, the last of his three original compositions, Graf shows how it would have sounded if Django Reinhardt had also incorporated modern bebop lines and one or another R’n’B harmony into his playing. Of course, Graf does not quite get past Django, who is revered by all gypsy musicians as the progenitor and founder of the European jazz tradition: two Reinhardt pieces can also be found on “A Trio’s Decade”: the relaxed “Mabel”, where Graf also plays the wind parts of the original, and a significantly accelerated and dynamic version of “You Rascal You”, confirming the stupendous virtuosity of Graf.

Gismo’s companions automatically come into play when it comes to virtuosity. His father Joschi shines as ever on the incorruptibly pace-giving rhythm guitar; together they also produced the album again. And the 37-year old German-Swiss Joel Locher on the double bass, trained classical – with Ulrich Lau at the Stuttgart University of Music and as a solo double bass player in the Stuttgart Youth Chamber Orchestra – as well as an exceptional talented and trained in jazz. Locher has long been a sought-after specialist for gypsy swing and, in addition to playing in the Gismo Graf Trio, also plays with other Django-Reinhardt heirs such as Sandro Roy, Frank Kuruc or Wawau Adler – with the latter since the beginning of the millennium, and they have just released a new album “Happy Birthday Django 110” on GLM. But he is one of the hot jazz representatives who are also open to modern jazz, soul or pop. Among other things, he is also a companion of the modern jazz pianist Olivia Trummer or of Pee Wee Ellis and Peter Fessler in their Funka Nova project.

An ideal partner for Gismo Graf, since his musical horizon also extends very far, as his selection of the “cover songs” for “A Trio’s Decade” proves. If you want to call them that, as Graf’s version of Chopins Fantaisie Impromptu op.66 sounds as if it had always been a gypsy swing piece, regardless of whether he interprets it with a breathtaking up-tempo or, after a stop, with a relaxed ballad sound. All the more surprising is their version of Michael Jackson’s “Liberian Girl” is a cool groove number that is strongly reminiscent of George Benson – for such thrilling escapades, Graf swaps his acoustic guitar, which was custom-made for the Django sound by the Italian guitar maker Mauro Fresci, for a semi-acoustic archtop signature guitar by Rèmi Petiteau. Finally, George Gershwin’s “A Foggy Day In London Town” not only gets a fantastic guitar swing, Graf also sings this song in a rousing Crooner manner.

Speaking of vocals: Gismo’s sister Cheyenne, who is three years younger, accompanies the trio on three songs and uses her catchy voice to add another color to this colorful album. Just how much she has developed is shown by her rough and fragile interpretation of Richard Roger’s all-time standard “My Funny Valentine”, but at the latest with the idiosyncratic version of Amy Winehouse’s “You Sent Me Flying” that breaks out from vibrating chants to bright tips. In the last track she joins for a last time to say goodbye and lets the album fade away bittersweetly with Gino Paoli’s catchy tune from 1961 “Senza Fine”. Fittingly, because on the one hand as a listener one wishes that the album would go on “without end”; on the other hand, luckily, you can be sure that the trio is far from over and that the first decade will be followed by even more exciting and fruitful ones. With its Gypsy Swing rejuvenated by jazz, folk and pop elements.