Pop With a Gypsy Touch

Don’t let the name fool you.

True, the Québec-based trio, The Lost Fingers, took its name from the two fingers of legendary gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt that were rendered useless in a fire, leading him to develop a unique and unmistakable playing style.

And it’s true that the group’s sound is highly influenced by the gypsy jazz style, known in French as manouche, popularized in the 1930s and ’40s by the Belgian-born gypsy maestro and French violinist Stéphane Grappelli.

But the music of The Lost Fingers has as much to do with contemporary pop charts as with scratchy discs of the Hot Club of France Quintet.

“At the beginning it was strictly manouche-oriented. Now it’s becoming more of a personal project,” Byron “Maiden” Mikaloff says of the four-year-old ensemble.

“We’re starting to develop as artists and I believe our playing as well. People are starting to develop their distinct playing styles.”

Indeed, the track list from the trio’s latest CD, Gypsy Kameleon– Mikaloff’s favourite so far – runs the gamut from Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses at Night” through Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” to Kim Mitchell’s “Patio Lanterns”.

Throw in some Glass Tiger, Dolly Parton, Bryan Adams and, of course, Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon” and it’s obvious The Lost Fingers aren’t looking just to hardcore jazz or manouche aficionados for their audiences.

“You could say it’s maybe pop-based gypsy jazz. It’s still relatively close to what it was traditionally, but it’s just a weird mix of style, like doing pop songs with that gypsy jazz behind it,” Mikaloff explains in a phone conversation from a hotel room in Saskatoon.

“In essence, that’s what Django Reinhardt was doing, and what a lot of jazz musicians were doing. They were playing standards and giving their own take on it.”

Besides Mikaloff, the trio consists of lead singer Christian Roberge andvocalist/upright bassist Alex Morissette.

“We all listen to different things and we all just bring different elements forward,” Mikaloff says.

“Christian has some great Latin kind of chops, and he’s a very fast player. I’ll bring a lot of the bluegrassy kind of chicken picking, finger picking and stuff like that. Alex studied jazz vocals, so he brings a lot of that into the arrangements.”

A native of Terrace, B.C., Mikaloff moved to Québec City to study classical music at the conservatory there. Morissette graduated from Laval University’s jazz program.

Roberge is actually Dr. Roberge, Mikaloff explains. Not only is he a conservatory-trained musician, he also has a doctorate in microgenetics.

“Basically, the group exploded right after he dropped his thesis, so he’s kind of rolling with the group and having a great time doing it,” Mikaloff laughs. “If anything happens, he’s got a great security plan.”

The Whitehorse performance will feature songs in both English and French.

“Everywhere we go across Canada, almost half of our rooms are filled with Franco-Canadians. It’s really cool, because we can actually do what I call a real Canadian show,” Mikaloff says.

“There’s not a lot of bands that get outside of Québec. We are breaking that barrier, and w must be doing something right, because it’s fun to see those two crowds come together and have that much fun.”

But what’s with the name Byron “Maiden”?

“My mom wasn’t a metalhead or anything like that,” he laughs. “I’m a part-time DJ as well, and that’s my DJ name, Byron Maiden.

The Lost Fingers perform Tuesday, February 15 at the Yukon Arts Centre.

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