The Belgian-born gypsy Django Reinhardt, a founding father of modern jazz guitar, is possibly Europe's greatest music export, being amongst the first non-American musicians to conversely influence jazz in the States.
This newly issued 3-disc retrospective spreads his career into three distinct periods, from '34 to only months before he died of a stroke in '53. After discovering the music of guitarist Eddie Lang, Django had found inspiration for his renowned single-note runs. His classical-influenced playing ventured from Bach and Debussy, in the form of unaccompanied solo guitar performances ("Improvisation no.2"), to a composition he created as a theme for a never-completed symphony ("Manoir de mes rêves"). He gives Grieg's "Danse norvégienne" a jazzed-up adaptation, he plays his arrangement of a Debussy theme, "Django's Dream (Rêverie)," on amplified guitar. Perhaps even his love for classical music is the reason for hearing the original banjo-guitarist playing violin ("Blues en mineur"), too.
Backed by his own big band, "I Can't Give You Anything but Love" was recorded months after the birth of his second son, Babik. The incredibly rhythmic clarinet of Hubert Rostaing cooks through the up-tempo rendition of "Just One of Those Things," while his more lyrical side manifests itself elsewhere ("Song d'automne"). From 1949, an interesting rather new element of piano is introduced. Gianni Safred is featured on six tracks, prominently so on "Bricktop." From the beginning of Django's experimentation and usage of amplification, it is his sustained, repeated, and bent notes and runs ("Topsy") which make one wonder the influence he had on Charlie Christian and vice versa.
This set collects some of the finest amplified guitar ever recorded, and the fantastic photographs interspersed throughout the 78-page booklet (some shots never seen before) are quite revealing, such as Django with Dizzy Gillespie from 1951. The guitarist's respect for bebop is heard through his pre-bop rhythmic playing inventions. The addition of a bop-inspired environment on several tracks has Frenchmen Pierre Michelot (bass) and the Fol brothers, Hubert (alto) and Ray (piano). The former Fol adds a lyrical beauty to the fore of the brushed ballad "Anouman," one of the few times Django was upstaged other than by Grappellibut dig Django with his just as breathtaking solo, in particular his entry. His subsequent fills, not to mention coda, sound as if he felt the pressure in not being outdone right up until the final note.
Django died only two months after the final selections in this set, including a request ("Brazil") by Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) impresario Norman Granz. The guitarist tragically passed away just before becoming a part of Granz' JATP; this May was the 50th anniversary of his death. Appropriately from that same final session is the second heart-wrenching rendition included of Django's "Nuages," which closes out this must-have set, a solid contender for the best reissue/box set of the year.
This review originally appeared in the July 2003 issue of All About Jazz - New York .