Django Reinhardt has a special status, whether it's as the first musician to arise outside the US as a significant jazz soloist; as a guitarist who overcame crippling injuries to develop a rapid-fire single-string virtuosity or as the musician who fused jazz, French music-hall and gypsy musical themes and inflections into a coherent and infectious style. But whatever his charms for the rest of the world, they're magnified in France and the gypsy musical community. Further, the style melds readily with other indigenous music of the Mediterranean, picking up melodies and rhythms from Italy, Spain and North Africa and cross-pollinating with mainstream jazz.
France's Dreyfus label has a substantial contingent of guitarists on its roster, some Django-style specialists like Biréli Lagrène and Dorado Schmitt, others more mainstream musicians with strong Django connections, like Philip Catherine and Sylvain Luc. To mark the Reinhardt centenary, Dreyfus has released a small raft of CDs in commemoration, including a compilation and CDs by Django-inspired guitarists young and old.
Generation Django, a two-CD compilation celebrating the legacy, includes versions of nine of Reinhardt's compositions as well as standards and traditional songs associated with him. The package might as well be called "Generations, ideas of family and legacy and essential parts of this culture." As well as performances by Reinhardt's son Babik and his grandson David, there are several families represented, including two Lagrènes, several Schmitts and two Wintersteins. Along with recent recordings, the set reaches into the past for items like Reinhardt's own version of "Blues Clair" and "Blues for Django and Stéphane," a tribute performed in 1992 by a brilliant band led by Reinhardt's long-time musical partner Stéphane Grappelli and featuring guitarist Philip Catherine.
The two CDs chart the range of Django adaptations and both the mobility and distinctiveness of the style. Biréli Lagrène leads several bands that combine the lilt and drive most characteristic of Reinhardt's group performances, including an intense nine minutes of "Minor Swing" featuring a dozen guitarists, among them Reinhardt's other great interpreters: Dorado, Samson and Tchavolo Schmitt and Stochelo Rosenberg.
Reinhardt's solo side is recalled by classical guitarist Valérie Duchâteau's almost Bach-like rendering of "Danse Norvegienne" while Argentinian Luis Salinas brings a sometimes playful mastery of chord-melody guitar to Reinhardt's most famous ballad, "Nuages." The style's adaptability to vernacular traditions is apparent in recordings by the gravel-voiced singer-guitarist Sanseverino, the theatrically-articulate Jean-Yves Dubanton and the retro-swing/pop of Caravan Palace. Just as Reinhardt would stretch to bop in his final years, it's his own progeny who reach furthest afield, his late son Babik employing keyboards and computer to push fusion to smooth jazz while David Reinhardt updates his grandfather's "Nuits de Saint Germain Des Prés" with flute organ and multiple percussionists.
The theme of community and inter-relation couldn't be stronger than on Dorado Schmitt's Family, a gorgeous outpouring of the spirit of acoustic gypsy jazz with Dorado joined by his sons Samson, Bronson and Amati, his brother-in-law Hono Wintersteinthe dean of the style's rhythm guitaristsand nephew Brady Winterstein, a talented soloist. The notes do nothing to sort out who's present and soloing when, but there's tremendous consistency here, sparkling, rhythmically vital, melodic music in which any sense of competition is immersed in the sense of camaraderie and a communal musical language. Highlights include the serene buoyancy of Dorado on "My Blue Heaven" and the developed harmonic vocabulary that clearly distinguishes Samson on his own "Samsong."
No gypsy guitarist has been so divided between the traditional style of Reinhardt's Hot Club of France and the draw of mainstream jazz styles as Biréli Lagrène. He first recorded Routes to Django as a 14-year-old prodigy in 1980 and was treated as a virtual reincarnation. In the ensuing decades he's moved back and forth between Reinhardt tributes and mainstream approaches, applying his staggering technique to genres from postbop modal to fusion.
His latest approach is Gipsy Trio, an illuminating trip into Reinhardt's world by a bare-bones trio with Hono Winterstein on rhythm guitar and Diego Imbert on bass. Lagrène's tribute can be delightful, reaching back to Reinhardt's own appropriations of "Limehouse Blues" and "Tiger Rag" and often bending notes expressively at very high speed, but at times the varieties of cheese in Lagrène's pantry can be a bit daunting, including George Harrison's "Something," a whistling intro to "Singin' in the Rain" and the concluding "Be My Love," with operatic tenor Roberto Alagna's sudden suggestion of Mario Lanza.
The other side of Lagrène, the more straightahead contemporary player is apparent on Summertime where he teams up with another virtuoso guitarist, Sylvain Luc. While likely of greatest interest to guitarists, it's an engaging meeting of two brilliant technicians with a long history of collaboration and a similar stylistic bent, here exploring accessible repertoire: standards, tunes by or associated with Miles Davis or Chick Corea. The daunting displays of chops are frequently relieved by a shared and sunny lyricism.
Perhaps the best news among these CDs comes with the eponymous Rocky Gresset, by a gifted younger guitarist who has previously recorded with the Django-inspired collective Selmer 607. While the band has the usual style markers of rhythm guitar, bass and violin, Gresset divides his time between an acoustic Selmer-style guitar and an amplified archtop. The Reinhardt connection is moderated by a Wes Montgomery influence, underlined by "Jingles" and "Polka Dots and Moonbeams." If there's a tendency in this genre to press the guitar towards a banjo, Gresset prefers a warm, lute-like resonance. The result is a CD of startling resonance, musical and emotional, with Gresset breathing new life into songs as familiar as "Blue Skies" and "My Foolish Heart."
Philip Catherine's Live at Capbreton takes the Dreyfus tribute to Django furthest from the source, though Reinhardt was an early influence. Catherine is joined here by a superb group of familiar musicians, including the most lyrically inventive of contemporary pianists, Enrico Pieranunzi, bassist Hein Van De Geyn and Joe LaBarbera on drums. The presence of Pieranunzi and LaBarbera is more likely to invoke Bill Evans than Reinhardt and, indeed, the opening "My Funny Valentine" almost insists on a connection to the extraordinary duo recording of the song by Evans and Jim Hall. Catherine's electric sound is at once stinging and sweet and within that dichotomy he has a broad expressive range. If great, singing guitar playing and lively group invention are in themselves tribute to Django, then this is as fitting a contribution to the Reinhardt centenary as any.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Disc 1: More; Daphné; Gipsy Swing; Time On My Hands; Bleu Citron; La Mer; Ferber Swing; Place Du Tertre; Nubes (Nuages); Blue Skies; Les Yeux Noirs; Danse Norvégienne; Minor Swing. Disc 2: Blues Clair; My Blue Heaven; Them There Eyes; Dinette; Montagne Ste Genevieve; Tears; Nuits de Saint Germain Des Prés; Incertitudes; La Cigale et la Fourmi; Envie De Toi; Zurezat; Fredo; Jolie Coquine; Blues For Django And Stéphane.
Personnel: Biréli Lagrène, Holzmano Lagrène, Django Reinhardt, David Reinhardt, Babik Reinhardt, Eugene Vees, Dorado Schmitt, Samson Schmitt, Amati Schmitt, Tchavolo Schmitt, Angelo Debarre, Serge Krief, Richard Chiche, Rocky Gresset, Adrien Moignard, Stochelo Rosenberg, Thomas Dutronc, Brady Winterstein, Hono Winterstein, Luis Salinas, Valérie Duchâteau, Sylvain Luc, Philip Catherine, Marc Fosset: guitars; Sanseverino, Jean-Yves Dubanton: vocal, guitar; Henri Salavador: vocal; Franck Wolf: saxophone; Richard Galliano, Marcel Loeffler, Jean-Claude Laudat: accordion; Florin Niculescu, Costel Nitescu, Stéphane Grappelli, Mathilde Febrer, Martin Weiss: violin; Diego Imbert, Gautier Laurent, Jean Storm, Sylvain Marc, Jean-Marc Jafel, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen: bass; André Ceccarelli, Gaston Leonard, Louis Augusto, Kurt Ross: drums; Zé Luis Nascimento; Daniel Benarrosch, percussion; Florent Gac: organ; Nicola Stilo: flute; Didier Makaga: keyboards; Jean-Claude Bonventure: computer; Caravan Palace: band (individuals not credited).
Tracks: Miro Django; Bleu citron; My Blue Heaven; For Grappelli; Gozes Valse; Topsy; Un si beau jour; Fête de la musique; Samsong; Minor Swing; Nuages; David's Swing; Just a Gigolo; Django's Tiger; J'attendrai.
Personnel: Dorado Schmitt, Hono Winterstein, Samson Schmitt, Bronson Schmitt, Amati Schmitt, Brady Winterstein: guitars; Gautier Laurent: bass; Marcel Loeffler: accordion; Stéphane Huchard: drums.
Tracks: Lullaby Of Birdland; New York City; Le Soir; Limehouse Blues; Poinciana; Schön Rosemarin / Night And Day; Sir F.D.; Something; Made In France; Singin' In The Rain; Tiger Rag; Change Partners; Micro; Be My Love.
Biréli Lagrène, Hono Winterstein: guitar; Diego Imbert: bass; Roberto Alagna, vocal.
Tracks: Summertime; So What; On The Fourth Of July; Spain; My One And Only Love; Wave; All The Things You Are; Got A Match; Can't Take My Eyes Off You; Someday My Prince Will Come; Interlude; On Green Dolphin Street.
Personnel: Biréli Lagrène, Sylvain Luc: guitars.
Tracks: The Way You Look Tonight; Blue Skies; My Foolish Heart; Jingles; Dream of You; Looking Up; Just One of Those Things; Ballade Pour Rose; Polka Dots and Moonbeams; Darn That Dream; Webster; Time on My Hands; Pour Toi.
Personnel: Rocky Gresset : guitar; Mathieu Chatelain: rhythm guitar; Costel Nitescu: violin; Jeremie Arranger: bass (1, 8); Diego Imbert: bass (2-7; 9-13); Thomas Dutronc: guitar (12).
Tracks: Introduction; My Funny Valentine; My Foolish Heart; Broken Wings; Beatrice; Change; You've Changed; Speak Low.
Personnel: Philip Catherine: guitar; Enrico Pieranunzi: piano; Hein Van De Geyn: bass; Joe LaBarbera: drums.