If I could understand why certain music genres come into vogue, I’d be a very rich man. As it is, all I can do is marvel at the regularity with which the postmillennium throws us a cultural curve ball, like making a cult sensation of gypsy jazz—a style that hasn’t been much in vogue since Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli were hard at it, way back in the first half of the last century. But if you have any doubt that it’s returned with a vengeance, just insert yourself into the SRO crowd at The Green Mill on any given Wednesday night, when Alfonso Ponticelli and Swing Gitan hold court. Being shy of hyperbole, I balk at citing Ponticelli as Reinhardt’s and Grappelli’s heir, but goddammit, if he isn’t, who is? He certainly has the charisma to lay claim to the title; he’s as much a stage animal as he is a virtuoso musician, and is not above such grandstanding tricks as playing his guitar with a beer in one hand (using the bottle to fret the strings). But he keeps such tricks to a minimum; he obviously knows that the real jaw-dropper he’s got to offer is the sheer fleetness, athleticism and gorgeous resonance of his playing. As to the latter quality, Ponticelli’s discernment gets at least as much credit as his playing; he uses a classical guitar, so that during his ballads it’s not just his gypsy-jazz forebears he recalls, but high-culture virtuosos like Andrés Segovia. Ponticelli’s band, Swing Gitan, brims with topflight talent as well; the usual crew includes Steve Gibons on violin, Jason Miller on rhythm guitar and John Bany on bass, but guest players are more the rule than the exception (hint: if you like their Facebook page, you’ll find out who in advance), and the mix is always an effervescent one. It’s what keeps ‘em coming back, I suppose… so much so that my advice to you is, get there early, not merely to get a good seat, but to get a seat at all. It’s a little paradoxical, as once these guys start swinging, you’ll want to jump out of it; but trust me. They play three sets over four hours. You’ve got a job to get to in the morning; whereas for Alfonso Ponticelli and Swing Gitan, this is their job. So they can go all night. Can they ever. (Robert Rodi)
Wednesdays, 9pm-1am at The Green Mill, 4802 North Broadway, greenmilljazz.com; $6.
Author: Robert Rodi
Robert Rodi is an author, spoken-word performer and musician who has served as Newcity’s Music Editor since 2014. He’s written more than a dozen books, including the travel memoir “Seven Seasons In Siena.” His jazz quintet recently completed a two-year residency at Uncommon Ground, and he regularly hosts a jazz singers’ jam at Lizard’s Liquid Lounge. His literary and music criticism has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Salon, The Huffington Post and many other national and regional publications.