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The Robin Nolan Trio's groovy Gypsy swing

Wednesday, Oct 3 2001
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In the early '90s, London six-string slinger Robin Nolan founded an acoustic jazz trio with bassist Paul Meader and percussionist Nema Lopes to perform songs in the Gypsy swing tradition of the legendary Django Reinhardt. The combo soon left the British Isles and took to busking on the streets of Amsterdam, where the players adopted the DIY lifestyle of itinerant minstrels, producing recordings to sell at shows and touring across Europe and the U.S.

This past spring, fledgling San Francisco label Refined Records made the trio's music available in stores, issuing the choice collection Mediterranean Blues. Featuring tracks from three of the band's self-releases and a couple of new titles from the soundtrack to Autumn in New York, the album stands out for its taste and accessibility and will surely appeal to guitar heads, folk buffs, world music aficionados, and jazz fans alike.

Though most of the blues, ballads, and breezy instrumentals on this disc are primed for adult contempo radio -- i.e., the production's a wee bit sanitized, à la the Gipsy Kings -- the trio manages to transcend this potential kiss of death via Nolan's savvy presence on the fretboard. Beyond Reinhardt's smooth, fiery playing, the guitarist's classy technique also echoes the fleet-fingered picking of post-fusionist Larry Coryell and the West Coast '50s cool of Wes Montgomery. Stylized but far from stagnant, Nolan's songs and deep-in-the-groove solos often surprise, with an originality and a sense of swing that convinces with each turn of phrase.

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Sam Prestianni

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