Django Reinhardt Meets Shostakovich

Article Contributed by | Published on Saturday, May 27, 2023

If Django Reinhardt, Dmitri Shostakovich and Claude Debussy ever sat down to write an album, the result may not have been too far from violinist Tobie Medland’s vision for The Aviary (July 7th, Future Fable Records).

Known for his work on the gypsy jazz scene - including as founder of the Gypsy Jazz Festival of London - Medland presents a refined, modern, avante-garde and genre spanning take on a style which rose to popularity almost 100 years ago.

Originally founded as a quartet, the group has grown to include several heavyweights of the British Jazz scene following the success of their debut record ‘Apparitions’. Joined by Sam Leak on piano, Tom Smith on clarinet, and a string section of Kit Massey, Helen Sanders-Hewett and Shirley Smart, the ensemble’s new sound is rich, complex, and full of twists and turns.

Rooted in a contemporary spin on gypsy jazz, the ensemble are influenced by 20th Century Classical composers Shostakovich, Debussy and Bartok as well as the likes of Joe Pass, Django Rheinhardt, and Joe Henderson. Juxtaposing atonality, free improvisation, and darkness with jovial melodies, driving swung grooves and bright harmony, their immersive world presents an undeniably fresh perspective on an underappreciated genre.

On the surface, the project - as the artwork suggests - is inspired by a fantastical and colourful world of rare birds and the personalities and individual tales of these strange avians. Dive deeper, though, and It’s a welcome touch of escapism, born out of a newfound love of covid-era adventure-cycling and bird-spotting which became a driving force in dealing with recent bereavements.

The Aviary are a rare voice in the UK: Queer-led, drumless arrangements, driving rhythms, soaring melodies and atonal soundscapes support virtuosic but tasteful group improvisation and characterful performances. Ever future facing, the quartet offer a fresh, distinctive, dark and unmistakably modern sound.

Tobie Medland | Violin, composition Tom Smith | Clarinet Sam Leak | Piano Kit Massey | Violin Helen Sanders-Hewitt | Viola Shirley Smart | Cello Bim Williams | Archtop guitar Sol Grimshaw | Rhythm guitar Marcus Penrose | Double Bass