unpredictable, fearless, and entertaining as their namesake, Le Chat
Lunatique purveys an addictive genre they call “filthy, mangy jazz,” a
signature sound that makes you want to smoke and drink too much—if only
you could get off the dance floor. Le jazz hot of Django Reinhardt and
Stéphane Grappelli is their north star, but they use that beacon to
navigate through a wide range of genres, blending Western swing,
classical, reggae, d00-wop, and “anything else we damn well please” into
strikingly original compositions and audaciously reworked standards
Le Chat Lunatique is Muni Kulasinghe’s theatrical vocals, his violin skittering across the music like beads of water on a hot skillet—inspired as much by a legless Polish gypsy he encountered on his vagabond travels as by the great Grappelli. It’s the axe of guitarist John Sandlin, the classicist who fell under the sway of Reinhardt, felling bar after bar of music with ferocious dexterity. It’s the slap-happy bass and slyly sweet vocals of Jared Putnam, the sinisterly innocent one whose dark past embraces both death metal and Western swing. It’s the irresistibly deep-pocketed grooves of drummer Fernando Garavito, the mysterious and gracious Colombian who appeared by magic in New Mexico.
The group began prowling the nightspots of Albuquerque -that secret haven of hot jazz - back in 2005, spontaneously impregnating the ears of unsuspecting audience members, who found themselves unable to stop listening or dancing or making merry. From their earliest gigs, Le Chat Lunatique has offered swinging originals with ear-snagging hooks and stories to tell—well-constructed little gems that propagate earworms for ongoing pleasure. Devilishly clever lyrics offer insight into l’amour (“falling in love is like eating tacos”), a louche paean to a doting millionairess (“Buy me a Cadillac, buy me a yacht / Buy me everything that I haven’t got”), minatory observations on fate (“the bus of God will run you
over”), and the inevitable bitterness of a broken heart (“Miss Lady . . . please do me the courtesy of drinking in some other gin joint”).
The band’s repertoire also features original arrangements of tunes that stretch from kindergarten favorites (“Frère Jacques”) to pop hits (“Straight Up”) to swing anthems (“Minnie the Moocher”) to Reinhardt classics (“Blue Drag”). Every single tune is more than covered—it’s completely “Le-Chat-ified.” First, it’s dunked in the group’s collective musical subconscious, and then they play the hell out of it. Take, for example, Sandlin’s inspired gypsy jazz arrangement of Eric Satie’s Gnossienne No. 1 - over a reggae rhythm (say what?). Then there’s the medieval liturgical intro to “House of the Rising Sun,” which ultimately descends into transcendent desperation.
Riding the popularity of their acclaimed first CD, Demonic Lovely, which featured all original tunes, and their follow-up collection of covers, Under the Covers (Vol.1), Le Chat Lunatique has been inducing musical mania in an ever-widening circle—from the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, to the clubs of England, to the boards of the national theater in Novi Sad, Serbia, where they performed their commissioned score for Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental's ground breaking theatrical production Flamingo/Winnebago. In their home state of New Mexico, they’ve won award after award annually for best band, best jazz act, and best song.
Their irreverent humor, their intensity, and their expert musicianship will soon win them your acclamation as the best time you’ve ever had in public with your clothes on.
Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico to Sri Lankan parents, Muni Kulasinghe spent his formative school years in the sunny southwest and summers sojourning in serendipitous Sri Lanka. At 7 years old, he began the violin because he wanted to be like his older sister. By 18, in addition to tripping with aforementioned parentals, he’d traveled extensively with the Albuquerque Youth Symphony, including destinations like London and Mexico City. He even, to his own shock and awe (and a bit of horror), had been selected as a senior concerto winner where he performed in front of 2,000 of his closest friends at the University of New Mexico’s Popejoy Hall.
At Colorado College, he was lucky enough to fall in with the Bowed Piano Ensemble, a well known group in the world of experimental music, with
whom he toured much of Western Europe (twice!). In Oslo, Norway, during their first tour they were even on the same bill as Herbie Hancock! (He still shakes his head in amazement.) Mr. Muni also spent a semester in
London to play the lead in a professional production of an original adaptation of Kafka’s Amerika. After university, young Muni went
adventuring to Tunisia, where he played with jazz guitarist Faouzi Chkeili, and various rock and funk bands infused with North African sensibilities; at one point he even gave a solo concert at L’Etoile de Nord.
Upon his return stateside, he rejoined friends in the Buntport Theater in Denver, with whom he put on plays, including a comic musical re-working of "Titus Andronicus", for which he wrote and played most of the music. He also rejoined another friend, Thaddeus Phillips of New York, to create and perform “The Earth’s Sharp Edge” at La MaMa Theater in NYC and the Painted Bride in Philadelphia (among other venues). For one year he again left these august shores to play gypsy swing in Montpellier, France. He learnt a great deal about cheese, wine and not brushing his teeth. Muni ran screaming from graduate school to spend most of his time either teaching or playing the violin in Albuquerque & occasionally acting when
Thaddeus is around (because Thaddeus takes him to places like Serbia with the whole band!)"
Jared Putnam was born in the great borough of Manhattan. After several years spent in bohemian errantry, he finally settled in New Mexico, where he now lives with his wife Monica, son Jack and daughter Claire. He
started playing electric bass at age 13, and soon after cultivated an
intense interest in “death metal”. By the end of high school, however, his interests had broadened to include prog-rock, classic rock, jazz, world music, et cetera. Jared graduated 4th in his high school class and was thus issued a scholarship to the University of New Mexico. While at UNM,
Jared studied upright bass with Mark Tatum and composition with Dr. Bill Wood. Jared played in jazz combo, jazz band and orchestra. His talents
were also called upon by the Santa Fe Symphony and the Roswell Symphony.
Upon almost but not quite graduating, Jared took a job playing bass with Albuquerque’s own “Mr. Guitar”, Hector Pimentel. Several months later, he went to work for Syd Masters and the Swing Riders, a band that specialized in western swing and cowboy songs. He played with this group for six and a half years, during which time they made four recordings, won 3 New Mexico MIC awards, were nominated for several awards from the Western Music Association, played for President
Vincente Fox of Mexico, Prince Andrew, Governor Richardson, Dennis Hopper and Patrick Swayze, made a TV commercial for the New Mexico Lottery, opened for Willie Nelson, Ian Tyson, Riders in the Sky, Hot Club of
Cowtown, Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys, and played hundreds of trail rides and festivals across the western U.S. They were country legend Lynn
Anderson’s band for most of 2003. While playing with Syd, he also developed a keen interest in the “un-gentle art of slap bass”- a very rhythmic, old-school style of playing developed by bass players (before there were amps) to be louder. He now brings his knowledge of jazz, western swing, composition and his crowd-pleasing slap bass solos to the dynamic sound of Le Chat Lunatique.
Guitarist John Sandlin has been playing music for twenty-one years. He received his Bachelor of Music degree in Classical Guitar Performance in
2003 from the University of New Mexico. During that time, he studied with the great Michael Chapdelaine, former student of Andres Segovia. In addition to classical guitar, John studied jazz guitar with Michael Anthony, 25-year Los Angeles studio veteran and local jazz hero. John also had the great opportunity to be exposed to many styles of jazz playing in UNM Jazz Bands under the tutelage of Glenn Kostur.
John has played with many local groups over the past decade. The Melizmatix, a lounge-y funk trio, have been the Reptilian Lounge House
Band at the Tricklock Theatre Company for five consecutive years. In addition, The Melizmatix held down a weekly happy hour gig at the swank
OPM nightclub in downtown Albuquerque. The Sidestreet Strut Swing Sextet, featuring some of Albuquerque’s great young jazz players, has
been a usual staple at the Tuesday night Swing Dance hosted by Desi Brown of the Primordial Swing Dance Group. Out of this band, John and
tenor saxophonist Starr Vavreck formed The Sandlin and Starr Jazz Duo. The Duo has opened for many acts in the Popejoy Lobby, including
Ahmad Jamal, The Artie Shaw Orchestra, Al Dimeola and Manuel Barueco, The Benny Goodman Orchestra, and others.
A native of Durango, CO, John also has a great love for reggae music and is a former member of the dub reggae group Sub Agencia. Members included Otto Barthel, former member of the popular local group Giant Steps, and former member of the world famous U.K. ska band The Specials, "Aitch" Harrington "Charlie" Bembridge. Sub Agencia’s highlights include opening for The Wailers, Toots and the Maytals, Andrew Tosh, and The Easy Star All Stars. In a brief trucker country stint, John played guitar in the enormously popular Breaker 19, which makes a couple of surprise appearances a year.
Upon making the acquaintance of jazz violinist Muni Kulasinghe, John was able to tap back into the jazz influences of Django Reinhardt and
Stephane Grappelli of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France. They started a formidable repertoire of gypsy swing music. Drummer Fernando Garavito and Bassist Jared Putnam soon materialized to form Le Chat Lunatique.
The rest is future tense…
Fernando Garavito was born and raised in Bogota, Colombia. At the age of 18, he moved to the United States with his family, initially to Maine and two years later to New Mexico where he now lives. Son to a writer and a ballet teacher, he was surrounded by music and the arts since an early age. He began by playing piano at the age of 8, and at 12 he moved towards the study of drums. At first, self-taught, he learnt mostly by listening to a great variety of musical genres. Being influenced by pop, rock, funk, heavy metal, ska, reggae, and his native traditional music, he developed a good versatility in switching between different musical settings. He also sought more formal instruction. He took two years of drum lessons from a Cuban drum master residing in Colombia, Fran Calzadilla, while participating in multiple ensembles and putting all his learning into practice.
He was formally introduced to Jazz upon his arrival to the US in 2002. He enrolled in the jazz studies program at the University of Southern Maine, and studied under the mentoring of drummer Les Harris Jr. He was involved in many musical ensembles, predominantly jazz-oriented,
performing at recitals and at local venues. He moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico in the summer of 2004, where he continues the study of
music. Now, together with guitarist John Sandlin, violinist Muni Kulasinghe, and bassist Jared Putnam, he performs with Le Chat Lunatique.