Django Reinhardt's last years are his least well known. Facing artistic obsolescence while jazz fans who once embraced him were hooked on the latest thing, Django assembled a new quintet of players schooled in bebop instead of swing to produce some records that were decidedly modern in feel. Long gone were the Hot Club with Stephane Grappelli and the band with Hubert Rostaing; instead, we get a modern combo featuring piano, drums, bass, and even trumpets and saxophones.
Also, Reinhardt had given up his acoustic Selmer for the electric guitar, which may sound a bit jarring to those used to his famous recordings. Despite the new sound (which may have alienated some), his new approach gives Reinhardt's attack more bite and presence, and he can still play runs with two fingers that many couldn't accomplish with four. He had also integrated his love for bebop into his playing and compositions, and all of the songs here sound like much of what would come out of the States from '50s guitar players like Barney Kessel and Herb Ellis. As with many of Reinhardt's later recordings, the other sidemen are hit or miss, but the guitarist always gets center stage and proves that he was still in fine form, able to fire off the choppy chords and dizzying arpeggios that made him famous.
Reinhardt's catalog is overflowing with reissues, and there's always a chance with any purchase that Djangophiles will wind up with several recordings that they already own. However, this CD features many recordings that have not seen the light of day in quite some time and most will not be in any collection (I have never heard them, and I have quite a bit of Django).
One could make the case that Django was the greatest guitarist that ever lived, and it would be hard to argue with that assertion based on this CD. While his late-period work was nowhere near as pioneering as his earlier output and not quite as satisfying, the gypsy was still ahead of everybody.
Personnel: Django Reinhardt: guitar; various others.