Les Freres Ferre brought a jazzy brand of Gypsy guitar music to La Maison Francaise on Saturday night, or was it Gypsy-style jazz? In any case, their eye-popping virtuoso guitar technique kept the audience spellbound. The two brothers are sons of Pierre Matelot Ferre, who was a mainstay in France's Hot Club Quintet with Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli.
The first piece, an extended warm-up essay with lots of repeated open chords by younger brother Elios, segued into a duel of sorts when each guitarist ripped through passages of intricate fingerboard work. Then they settled in for a solid hour-and-a-half performance warmed by the full, tube-amp sound system.
Whippet-quick runs evoked a flamboyant Gypsy heritage, but the program's arrangement and staging suggested orchestrated coordination rather than impromptu play. Boulou Ferre would pull into toe-tapping high jinks, then pass the lead to his brother, whose mother-of-pearl-inlaid Guild guitar flashed in the stage lights. Occasional arm swings and shouts punctuated the high energy level.
Guitar jazz at this level isn't easily accessible. Mixed with the Ferres' interpretation of contemporary European jazz were whiffs of Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and Art Blakey. The dark, complex arpeggios of classical composer Olivier Messiaen, with whom Boulou has worked, informed many passages, particularly in the homage to jazz and pop composer Serge Gainsbourg. And, of course, the brothers often returned to Reinhardt's melodies of the 1920s.
By concert's end, the Ferres were noodling around, easily running through snatches of familiar pop ballads, bits of Bach and even a Scottish battle march. Their smiles showed that they were having a thoroughly good time with their artistry.
Fourteen-year-old classical guitarist Nicki Lehrer opened the concert, charming the audience with a selection of challenging pieces, including two by Heitor Villa-Lobos.