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Local jazz gone global: Le Chat Lunatique, which performed in Kazakhstan, is ready to release its third album

The cover of Le Chat Lunatique’s new album, “Swing Gitan.”

The cover of Le Chat Lunatique’s new album, “Swing Gitan.”

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Le Chat Lunatique has altered the expression “It’s not what you know, but who you know” in getting a gig halfway round the world. Albuquerque’s Gypsy swing band has changed it to this: “It’s what you know AND who you know.”

The band knows jazz and it knows a chef in New York City who recommended it for a gig in the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan. Le Chat performed in the Kazakh city of Almaty last year thanks to chef Mark Tafoya and his friendship with an American government cultural official in Kazakhstan.

John Sandlin, Le Chat Lunatique’s guitarist, said Tafoya, a former Albuquerque resident, had been to that country and got to know the U.S. cultural official. The official asked Tafoya if he knew of any jazz bands in New York that would play for a fundraiser in Almaty, according to Sandlin.

“Mark said he didn’t, but he did know of a jazz band in Albuquerque – Le Chat Lunatique,” Sandlin related.

The band played at the fundraiser sponsored by an international women’s group that helps the Almaty community. The band also performed at a nightclub and gave workshops to students at a jazz school there.


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Le Chat will be releasing its third album, “Swing Gitan,” at a CD release party Sunday, May 18 at the Marble Brewery. Also performing are Cactus Tractor and Wildwood.

“It’s entirely Gypsy jazz songbook standards,” Sandlin said.

The songs on the recording include Django Reinhardt’s “Douce Ambience,” the tune “Shine” and the title cut.

“It was completely recorded live all in the same room, UNM’s Keller Hall, with no overdubs,” Sandlin said. “It was engineered by Manny Rettinger. The live recording was his idea. … This was a real challenge to keep the focus, to keep the energy throughout.”

The other members of the band are Muni Kulasinghe on violin and vocals, Jared Putnam on bass and vocals and Fernando Garavito on drums.