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Extended Analysis

Bireli Lagrene: Djangology/To Bi Or Not To Bi

By Published: December 28, 2007
Bireli Lagrene
Djangology/To Bi Or Not To Bi
Dreyfus Records
2007



Bireli Lagrene, heir apparent to the legacy of legendary Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, has recently released an outstanding two-CD set, Djangology/To Bi Or Not To Bi . The first disc was recorded live with the powerhouse German big band, WDR; the second is a solo endeavor that showcases Lagrene's remarkable virtuosity.

Born in Germany in 1966, within a traditional Gypsy community, Lagrene started playing guitar aged 4, and by the time he was 8 had, it is said, worked his way through most of Reinhardt's repertoire. At 12, he was a well-known prodigy and had toured Germany, and while still in his youth recorded a live double LP. Lagrene relocated to the US while still a teenager, hooking up with guitarist Larry Coryell in 1984 and going on to play with bassist Jaco Pastorious' fusion group. In 2001, he went back to a more traditional Gypsy/jazz style, touring and recording in Europe and the US.

On Djangology , Lagrene plays electric guitar, accompanying and soloing with the big band. It's an impressive concert, recorded live at the IAJE conference in New York, 2006. Riding razor-sharp arrangements by conductor Michael Abene, the musicians swing with solid, Count Basie-like precision. There are overtones too of Gil Evans' shifting, undulating section patterns on several tracks.

Lagrene's presence is solidly felt. After the boppish opening of Reinhardt's "Impromptu, he shows off his lightning-fast fingering in a memorable solo. Olivier Peters' tenor saxophone also blazes on this track. Two other Reinhardt pieces stand out, "Djangology and "Anouman. Gil Evans' influence is palpable on the former, while Jens Neufang's dark, moody baritone saxophone dominates the latter.

On the up-tempo standard "Caravan, Lagrene gallops along at a breakneck pace, pulling the band with him. He also sings two ballads on the record, "The Shadow Of Your Smile and "The Good Life, in a pleasant, Tony Bennett-tinged voice.

On To Bi Or Not To Bi, which includes 10 Reinhardt compositons, Lagrene plays unamplified, solo guitar, giving full payment on his debt to Reinhardt. One stand-out track is the complex "Sur La Croisette, to which Lagrene gives an enjoyable classical twist. Rock checks in too, with a tongue-in-cheek medley featuring Queen's "We Are The Champions and "We Will Rock You and the pop hit "It Was A Very Good Year.

Paradoxically, these two discs give voice to one of today's true originals, albeit one mindful of his legendary mentor's legacy.

Tracks: CD1: Place Du Tertre; Good Life; Djangology; Impromptu; Shadow Of Your Smile; Blues En Mineur; Anouman; Fleche dOr; Caravan; All Of Me. CD2: Sur La Croisette; London (Soli Love); R & Bi; Deauville En Ville: We Are the Champions/We Will Rock You/It Was A Very Good Year; Sous Les Pommiers; Capucines; Belle Vie; Madras Express; Amparo; Bar De Nuit; To Bi Or Not To Bi; Vague A L'Aime.

Personnel: Bireli Lagrene: guitar; John Marshall, Andy Haderer, Klaus Osterloh: trumpet; Bernt Laukemp, Ludwig Nuss, Dave Horler: trombone; Mattis Cederberg: trombone/bass; Karolina Strassmayer, Heiner Wiberny: alto saxophone; Olivier Peters: tenor saxophone; Jens Neufang: baritone saxophone; Frank Chastenier: piano; John Goldsby: bass; Hans Dekker: drums.



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