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Les Doigts De L'Homme: 1910

Bruce Lindsay By

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The French quartet Les Doigts de L'Homme plays gypsy jazz, inspired very directly by the work of Django Reinhardt, and like much of Reinhardt's own music 1910 swings. In fact, it swings like the clappers. Acoustic guitars, double-bass, and an occasional clarinet create a wave of musical energy, of sheer danceable fun, that would do justice to almost any electrically powered-up group or full-scale big band around.

1910 was the year of Django Reinhardt's birth. The title of the album (released in Europe in 2010) thus pays tribute to a man whose impact on the guitar, and on jazz, continues over 100 years later. The music is an even greater tribute: a mix of Reinhardt's own tunes; American Songbook classics; and a handful of numbers by Les Doigts de L'Homme's lead guitarist, Olivier Kikteff, all played with panache and breathtaking precision, even when the tempos are blindingly swift.

Much of the music's energy comes from Les Doigts de L'Homme's rhythm section: guitarists Yannick Alcocer and Benoit Convert, and bassist Tanguy Blum. Convert also takes on a share of lead playing and solos, matching Kikteff's precision and swing with a fluid style that contrasts with Kikteff's more muscular approach.

The musicians perform every number with the same high level of energy and enthusiasm. The faster tunes, such as Reinhardt's "Appel Indirect" and Kikteef's "Niglo 1 Waltz" and "1910" seem impossibly quick at times, but the players never lose their ability to swing however fast their fingers may be flying. The slower tunes show Les Doigts de L'Homme's more considered and reflective side—"St James Infirmary Blues" as arranged by Kikteff is lightened by brief phrases from "Hernando's Hideaway" but does a fine job of capturing the song's melancholy and desperation; Kikteff's lovely "Improsture No.1," which he performs solo, is recorded to sound like a scratchy old 78. The addition of Stéphane Chausse's clarinet on "Boléro" and "Russian Melody" broadens the tonal range to good effect. Blum's inventive arrangement of Reinhardt's famous "Swing 48" features fine solos from Convert and Kikteff as well as Blum's own punchy double bass solo.

Les Doigts de L'Homme formed in 2003. 1910 is the band's fifth recording but the first to gain a North American release. This is a superb band, displaying exceptional technical skill and musicianship: a great reminder of the beauty of Reinhardt's legacy and an affirmation of its relevance in contemporary jazz.

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