Yebarov photograph (from their website)

Yebarov / Drôle de Swing / Torivaki @ Old Fire Station, Oxford, 01/05/14

I feel like I’ve woken up in another country at tonight’s Old Fire Station Theatre gig. Most of the 120-strong audience are French, the bands all come from Grenoble and the lyrics are only discernible to my English ears as a textural chant. This mood carries through the evening, in a more than excellent gig with many treasures in its overall production.

Traditionally-styled quartet Torivaki slither into action with double bass and violin chops, the air soon perfumed with a scent of exotica from the marriage of esoteric-to-France elements: gypsy accordion (played like a busker in the streets to tourists) and double bass (providing a stop/start pulse to proceedings). Later, flute makes a snake-charmer-esque appearance in the tracks, bobbing from its basket when activated by currents of melody. Torivaki are at their best when they take stronghold in the art of the jazz noodle – the solo instrumental section later rejoined by instrumental chorus effect. They maximise the subtle potential of the compositions like this, because the minimal is given chance to shine further than background music context. They’re the most classical of all the acts on tonight’s bill, which causes one young couple to leave early as “we were expecting more uptempo, jive stuff!”

They needn’t have worried: this bill’s diversity proves second to none, as shown by the suitably uptempo, jive-y Drôle de Swing, on next. I recall seeing the Hugh Turner band at the Jazz Club on Cowley Road years back, and these players have a similar sense of mettle for the funk. True to their name, too, their music swings about percussively, for two tunes powered by the drummer’s washboard (an instrument with several bells and noise-making quills on it) skills, at points coming close to Art Blakey’s A Night In Tunisia for full-throttle-yet-artfully-restrained abandon. The saxophone trumping tallies off a riotous applause among the crowd, who are starting to become more animated – less escargot – more “let’s go”.

Yebarov might be topping the bill after a short interval, but they sound as much an abomination of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat character’s theme music as they become an applaudable entity with unique character. It’s only Borat-ish in the female vocal accompaniment – the instrumental stuff could get away with not sounding like “I buy you red dress” delusional pomp. When the female vocalists break into a kooky call-and-response it’s a bit toe-curling, yet at the same time infected with a French charm that offsets any indifference. Extra points to them for singing an English song near the end, with the love token “kiss me and say you’re mine” a uniting prospect for the amorous crowd who are on their feet by the end of it.