Swing band the Hi-Fi Honeydrops doesn't buzz so much as it purrs, giving out with an undulating pure swing sound that's resolutely beholden to oft overlooked forebears as Eddie Lang, the Joe Venuti-Paul Whiteman guitarist who deeply influenced Django Reinhardt.
With three guitars, a bass fiddle and a deliciously spirited, almost acrobatic clarinet, this quintet of twentysomethings have a hauntingly perfected quality to their approach, attitude and style.
While most of their peers tune in hip-hop and techno, these dedicated throwbacks, who appear Monday at Joe's Great American Bar & Grill in Burbank, are zealously dedicated to re-invigorating the Great American Songbook of the early 20th century, a pursuit they manage with impressive facility.
“I was finishing my master's degree at USC, and here I was with all this music education and nowhere to play,” band leader-guitarist David Elsenbroich said. “And I kept asking and asking and asking the owner at this neighborhood spot [Echo Park's 1642 Beer & Wine] to let us play. Finally, they agreed and gave me a Wednesday night.”
For the 1642 gig, Elsenbroich recruited bassist-vocalist Eliana Athayde, clarinetist Max Bryk and guitarists Greg Flieschot and Keegan Anglim, fellow students all. “We've been playing there three years,” he said. “That held us together, allowed us to cut our teeth and to really get tight as a band.”
A protégé of the renowned jazz guitarist-educator Bruce Forman at USC, Elsenbroich's passion for jazz eventually propelled him back in time. “I was studying with Bruce and at jazz school they throw everything at you, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, just all across the map. I love all that stuff, but I just wasn't latching onto any one thing. And then Bruce says, ‘Here, listen to Eddie Lang and Charlie Christian.'
“I felt a real affinity for these guys. To me, these were blue-collar musicians, working their asses off and playing this incredible music. They made sense to me,” Elsenbroich said. “All my peers were listening to the modern guys, who are great but just didn't speak to me.”
Performing such titles as “Limehouse Blues,” “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo” and “Russian Lullaby” may seem downright exotic in the 21st century, but Elsenbroich thrives on it. “I use the band as an excuse to learn the repertoire, to immerse myself in the repertoire,” he said. “I started cherry-picking the tunes and now we're getting deeper, going into more obscure songs.”
“Most of our arrangements are a hodge-podge that not only throw back to the old recordings, but we try to re-arrange them in a way that's even more idiomatic of the 1920s,” he said. “You take a passage from a Django recording, a little bit from another lesser-known version of the same song and throw them together, so a familiar sing like “Blue Skies” doesn't sound the way you expect. It's unusual, because of this sort of Frankensteined-together approach.”
The Hi-Fi Honeydrops pull it off with an impressive combination of elements: passion, technique, spontaneity and a depth of expressive, emotional involvement. As Forman, the band's droll, de facto mentor said, “The 'Drops are a promising aggregation of youngsters wrapped in old clothes and older souls. They really get it going and will swing you into bad health — enjoy at your own risk.”
Who: The Hi-Fi Honeydrops
Where: Joe's Great American Bar & Grill, 4311 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank
When: Monday, Nov. 4, 8:30 p.m.
Cost: No cover, two-drink minimum
More info: (818) 729-0805,joesgreatbar.com
JONNY WHITESIDE is a veteran music journalist based in Burbank and author of “Ramblin' Rose: the Life & Career of Rose Maddox” and “Cry: the Johnnie Ray Story.”