If you were a New Orleans expat in the early days of the Great Depression, one who suddenly needed to leave town for reasons best left unsaid by booking passage on an ocean liner to Morocco, the 78s you might listen to in your tiny stateroom over the next few days probably would sound a lot like the Tangiers Combo. Their vagabond pre-war jazz instrumentals—acoustic guitar and bass, with violin, sax, clarinet and the occasional flute fighting for solo supremacy—are engineered to span the Western Hemisphere just like that. When their bio talks about that “vibrating land of poets, writers, musicians and cultural refugees,” you can bet they’re drawing a connection between North Africa and South Louisiana. Django Reinhardt and his gypsy jazz are represented here, of course, on a handful of tracks (they even cover the Rosenberg Trio, modern-day hiveminds themselves heavenly influenced by the master) but they also make ports of call in the Caribbean and parts of South America, thanks to Lionel Belasco’s “Luna De Maracaibo” and Goyeneche’s “Chiquilin de Bachin.” Not to mention nods to the early Great American Songbook in the exotica classic “Similau” and the original Moulin Rouge’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” and two tributes to Johnny Green’s Orchestra in the form of “Coquette” and “Two Cigarettes in the Dark.”
It’s a perfect cultural pastiche, sad romanticism for those at least temporarily without a home, set off by Eric Rodriguez’s wistful violin and Jason Danti’s nearly avant-garde turns on everything else. The mix doesn’t hurt either: it often literally sounds like the corner of a small foreign club, with Carl Keith’s guitar near your table and Eric and Jason a little further out near the window. Window? More like porthole. The Tangiers Combo prove to be perfect travel agents, moving not just through musical culture but time.