Finesse shows the Django A La Creole group at their best, by The Jazzmann

"New Orleans based clarinettist Evan Christopher’s initial “Django A La Creole” recording was released in 2008 and was included in the Sunday Times “Best 100 CDs Of The Year” listings, coming in at no. 9 in the jazz section. 2010’s follow up “Finesse” has done even better with the paper naming Christopher’s follow up as No.1 jazz album of the year.
“Django A La Creole” has now become the name of Christopher’s band with the same personnel remaining from the previous recording. Joining Christopher on clarinet are guitarists David Blenkhorn (lead) and Dave Kelbie (rhythm) plus double bassist Sebastien Girardot. This is a stellar line up also capable of delivering excellent live performances (reviews of the previous album and of a concert given at Builth Wells are to be found elsewhere on this site).
“Finesse” appears on the French Fremaux Associes label and is released in conjunction with Kelbie’s London based lejazzetal organisation. As before it’s an exciting fusion of “Hot Club” guitar stylings with the music of New Orleans. Christopher is inspired as much by Sidney Bechet as by Django Reinhardt and he and his group serve up a fresh and tasty variation on the Reinhardt legacy.
The use of clarinet in this kind of context is not strictly speaking new, Django Reinhardt himself worked with Barney Bigard and others back in the day but the combination of clarinet and “Hot Club” style guitars is rarely seen on contemporary stages. Christopher and his colleagues also stir in other influences from sources such as Cuba and Brazil, adding to an already spicy mix.Although Reinhardt’s influence still dominates, “Finesse” sees the group detaching itself from his repertoire. Only one title on “Finesse” was actually written by Reinhardt (as opposed to half a dozen on the previous record) although many of the tunes featured are inevitably associated with him. (...)
"Finesse” shows the Django A La Creole group at their best. The playing throughout is warm and skilfully executed and the choice of material makes for an interesting and innovative exploration of the Reinhardt legacy. If memory serves it’s also better recorded than it’s predecessor with every nuance of Christopher’s fluent and expressive playing superbly captured by producer Kelbie and engineer Dylan Fowler. Despite the release on a French label the album was actually recorded at Fowler’s studio near Abergavenny. This may not be the most challenging of releases but the warmth and skill of the playing and the imagination of the arrangements makes for hugely enjoyable listening. In the hands of these guys it’s easy to see why the Django Reinhardt style has remained so enduringly popular."