There’s a lot going on in Harmonouche’s music—for one thing, they’re about the only non-blues band I can think of that’s led by a harmonica player, and they have four diverse soloists in the lineup. But what grabs me most about this CD is the way Raphael Bas sings: Voicing in heavily accented French, he sounds like a likeably roguish character, and evinces a joie de vivre that’s the perfect fit for the band’s music.
The voice is especially charming on “J’aime Paris”—yes, it’s the Cole Porter song you’ve probably heard, but it seldom swings like this, with Chris Kohl, Pascal Valcasara and Bart Ramsey trading exuberant solos of clarinet, sax and piano. True to their gypsy-jazz origins, Harmonouche aren’t about underlining their instrumental virtuosity, but using it to enhance the celebratory and romantic mood. The title track is an original take on the tradition of songs celebrating New Orleans, personifying the city as a femme fatale. One of three Django Reinhardt tunes here, “Swing 48” features another round of hot soloing (including Bas on a guitar solo that crosses Reinhardt with rockabilly) but the other two from his songbook, “Django’s Castle” and “Tears,” show the band’s more elegant side: The former plays a harmonica homage to Toots Thielemans, while the latter uses whistling as a lead.
The one song you’ll definitely recognize is “What a Wonderful World,” closing the disc as a guitar/harmonica duet. Unlike many versions of the Armstrong chestnut, this doesn’t sound like it’s trying to be a big statement, just a moment to reflect on the wonder of it all.