Sitting in his tiny home studio, The Hot Club of Las Vegas guitarist and bandleader Mundo Juillerat picks wildly on a Holo guitar, a replica of the early 20th-century oval-sound-holed versions Gypsy jazz father Django Reinhardt used to play. It sounds overbearing. Pack-a-day raspy. But beautiful and uniquely homely despite itself. He explains this is what makes it perfect for the genre: the imperfections. Which is why it’s going to sound funny when we say The Hot Club is perfecting Gypsy jazz, and doing so with the goal of hitting the commercial market with its latest album, Summer Score.
“I produced it with the intention of it being very listenable,” Juillerat says. “There’s a lot of guitar solos, but if you aren’t into that, you’ll still be able to hum some of the songs after the first listen.”
It’s a bold move, given the insular and elitist nature of the genre, one that adheres to strict rules with its rhythms. Some musicians even say it isn’t Gypsy jazz if you don’t play your chords with two fingers, like Reinhardt — who only played that way because a fire turned half of his hand into a claw when he was a kid. “I thought, what can I do to make this progressive?” Juillerat says. “So I added a cajon [box-shaped percussion instrument] player and a female vocalist … we call it Gypsy jazz, Vegas-style.”
This is a group of people from which you’d expect a nonadherence to the genre rules. Almost everyone plays in a production on the Strip. And like other Strip-musician supergroups (Uberschall, Santa Fe and the Fat City Horns), this project is a way to express their own proclivities. “This is being an artist,” Juillerat says. “Le Reve pays me to play music, not make music.”
But as band leader, a lot of that artistry — specifically, the composing — comes down to Juillerat and finding ways to respect but grow upon a stubborn genre. And that’s where Cuban singer Noybel Gorgoy came in. She has the kind of crassly beautiful voice that matches Juillerat’s guitar, but with the high-registered fluidity of a pop singer (“She likes to go Christina Aguilara-high so we had to drop her register and give her someplace to go”) and the dangerous musicality of a jazz saxophonist. “I push her hard, and she’s great,” Juillerat says. “She’s dangerous because we’ll have to follow her at times. She’ll just go.”
And this is why The Hot Club is going to prosper. And why they might break into the mainstream. “We don’t sound like Norah Jones, but if you use that model, she basically broke into the market with one song,” Juillerat says. “We have two or three That One Songs.” At this point he whips around to his computer, playing clips of the songs he thinks could make it happen. A Spanish translation of their song “The Way You Say My Name.” A swing cover of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good.” It’s powerful. And imperfect. Just like that ugly guitar. And like Django Reinhardt’s hand. But this is Gypsy jazz. Perfect means you’ve done it wrong.
Thursday, June 7, 10 p.m.; The Palms Lounge, 4321 W. Flamingo Road, 942-777, free