Sunday, February 21, 2016

The WASO Quartet - Part 1

Georg Lankester
Georg Lankester has collected info about the legendary  Belgian Gypsy swing ensemble WASO and shares the story in two parts. Below is published the first part, the second part will follow here.

One of The Greatest Django Interpreters of The Benelux 

We have to go back to the year 1975 when Koen de Cauter  took the initiative to form,  together with his friend Fapy Lafertina quartet in the Hot Club de France style, which was created about 40 years earlier in France by Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli.
l-r: Fapy Lafertin and Koen de Cauter (courtesy
There is a certain parallel with the original French quintet. The new formation also had two great soloists because Fapy and Koen were both acknowledged musicians in Belgium.

The Origins of the Gypsy Jazz

The  original Hot Club quintet was founded in 1934 and received international reputation due to the unparalleled playing of Manouche guitarist Django Reinhardt and the great jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli, backed up by a three-men rhythm section.
Quintette du Hot Club de France (1937)
These five musicians formed the first jazz string quintet the world had ever seen and which surprised jazz fans all over Europe and even in the USA. The many records of this French quintet -  in particular those released between 1934 and ’39 - are still available everywhere, even today. These show marvellous guitar and violin improvisations in a unique swing rhythm  – a new kind of jazz, but now created in Europe. When the second  World War broke out the cooperation between the two giants suddenly ended. During five years Stéphane stayed in England whereas Django lived in Paris, now playing with clarinettist  Hubert Rostaing. -  It is probably the latter formation which has inspired Fapy and Koen after  listening to the records of the Forties of last century.
Quintette du Hot Club de France (1940s)
The First Years of WASO

WASO quartet - early 1970s
In the early days of the formation  WASO included: Fapy Lafertin solo guitar with Jeff C. Wickle rhythm guitar, Koen de Cauter clarinet/sax, violin & vocals and Michel Verstraeten double bass. - As far as I know this Django-formation of the Seventies was one of the first in the authentic line-up of the war time, in which the focus was on guitar and a reed instrument. Several Django compositions formed part of the group’s repertoire, sometimes re-arranged by Fapy or Koen and it also included American jazz standards and some own compositions.
Koen with Sammy Rimington
During the first year WASO made a tour in Belgium with the British soprano saxophonist Sammy Rimington. They often performed in Gent and one of  their ‘live’ concerts was recorded in April 1976, later released on an LP  titled WASO ‘live’ at Gringo’s.
WASO - Live at Gringo's, LP (1976) (info, click here)
The album reveals interesting recordings which show ‘Django guitarist’ ’Fapy Lafertin in all tracks  and  the versatility of Koen on soprano- and alto sax, violin and in vocals. Remarkable is a certain New Orleans influence in Koen’s clarinet playing. - Some titles: Hot lips, Running wild, Swing ’41, Tears and the first recording of Fapy’s beautiful composition Fleur de lavande.

In the course of 1976 rhythm guitarist Jeff went back to the USA and was replaced by Vivi Limberger (member  of a well-known gypsy family in the Benelux). Vivi formed part of the “Piottos” and his strong rhythm on guitar (and vocals) could from now on be heard  giving the right swing to the WASO quartet.
WASO - late 1970s
Increasing Popularity

The performances of the reformed WASO group were more and more noticed and the formation was invited in the UK, Scandinavia, Holland, Germany, Switzerland and France,  where they played in jazz clubs and in all kinds of theatres.
LP 1977 - Rommages (info, click here)
In 1977, a second WASO album  was released called Rommages on which the musicians in several tracks could be heard with singer Jacques Mercier – born in the French Ardennes and called Valentin. The recordings  were made in Belgium, probably partly in the preceeding year. Some of the 12 titles are: Une petite amie, Tu restes, Credo and, of course, Rommages (an homage to the Romani). In the cover text Fapy’s  name gets special attention.

That same year Didier Geerts joined the group for a short time on drums.

In the late Seventies WASO got a Dutch impressario (Elly Joosten) and as a result the band had more bookings in Holland. The musicians could now be heard at big Jazz Festivals eg. in Maastricht and Breda as well as in jazzclubs throughout the country.
Later, when the Django society for Holland was founded, I invited them as well (see further on in this review).

More Albums And a (Recorded) Radio Broadcast

At the end of 1979 “Munich Records”in Heelsum (Holland) arranged – on the initiative of WASO’s management -  recordings for a new LP record. The producer was Job Zomer, an enthusiastic jazz specialist and his engineers were experienced in recording small groups as well. The result was an album with 12 fine jazz tracks with Django themes such as Si tu savais and Cavalerie, the Hawkins theme Mop Mop and Summertime.

LP  1979 - WASO 4 - "Gipsy Swing" (info, click here)
The different titles offer again a lot of variety because – next to Koen’s clarinet and sax playing - he can be heard on guitar and in vocals. Fapy’s guitar solos are charming and  show his own interpretation of Django Reinhardt’s playing in the Thirties/Forties.

One year later, in August, a radio broadcast was made from a popular jazz café in Laren (not far from Amsterdam) where jazz sessions frequently took place. Their ‘live’ concert that evening was recorded by Polydor and later released on an album called WASO live in Laren. It is a great and historical album also because of the enthousiastic audience which created a real jazzy atmosphere,
LP 1980 - WASO Live in Laren (info, click here)
The formation was in top form and one can now hear the announcements which Koen usually made and some of his special vocals. Beautiful ballads as well  as up-tempo themes demonstrate the quality of the group as a unit, but also in the individual improvisations of Fapy and Koen. Some titles: Douce ambiance, Si tu savais, It had to”be you and the unforgettable Le danseur de Charleston with Koen’s special vocal and announcement.

In June 1979 a festival in Belgium named “Folk aan Zee” took place where a friend of mine played with his group .During this festival WASO was also present with a real gypsy repertoire. My friend remembers that he heard great  gypsy themes which  they produced like Tu djaial and a beautiful execution by Fapy of the waltz La Gitane (composed by Tchan-Tchou). Koen also played violin and Vivi was singing as well.
WASO feat. Denis Vereeckeren (1978)
Both in 1979 and 1980 WASO occasionally had Denis Vereecken as a guest player on guitar.(here shown on a rare picture above).

To be continued here

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  1. Is de oudere muziek van Waso ook ergens te krijgen op CD of mp3?

    1. Unfortunately, the LPs by WASO are not available on CD or as mp3. Some of the later release by the ensemble are issued as CD, check here


  2. Het album Romani vol 2 is op Cd verschenen, zeer de moeite waard.