John Jorgenson & Angelo Debarre
Laguna Beach, CA
March 10, 2006
Celebrations of the legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt, continued this year in California at Laguna Beach, March 9-12 as part of DjangoFest 2006. Packed with workshops, jam sessions, and concerts, this small town on the coast of Southern California offers a convivial outpost for a wayward art form.
Guitarist John Jorgenson, a California native now living in Nashville, was a likely choice for an initiation into gypsy jazz. Jorgenson comes from a varied musical background, but offers a crafted insight into this unique style. Although not on a virtuosic par with high-flyers such as Bireli Lagrene or Angelo Debarre, Jorgenson's skills as an arranger and raconteur were displayed as he presented his own interpretation of Reinhardt's style.
There is a lot to be said for playing to one's audience. Jorgenson displays his strengths in a well-balanced, varied, and interesting artistic demonstration, born of years of experience as a top flight musician.
Backed by the irrepressible Gonzalo Bergara on rhythm guitar (a rising star on the LA scene), Jorgenson was an opener of sorts for Parisian guitarist Angelo Debarre.
Debarre, a Manouche gypsy true to Django's style of playing, performed in a trio with rhythm guitar, and double bass. Debarre kept the evening to easily recognizable swing tunes, including "Minor Swing" and "Nuages." Debarre's chops are fluent; executed with a deft and dizzying atheleticism, a trade mark of Reinhardt's style. He employed a unique pick approach with arpeggiated runs, against a relentless 4/4 boom-chick rhythm, to create an exotic blend of traditional gypsy campfire flavor and American jazz.
A bewildered audience reacted to this hybrid style with several audible "wows," as Debarre seemed to defy that which was humanly possible on the fretboard.
Why is this unusual style becoming so popular in America? One theory is that the aggressive, unabated virtuosity offers a challenge to young dude urbanites, looking to showcase their wares in a more sophisticated format than rock or blues. Partly true, but excepting the Gypsy culture, the music has a raw earthiness, derived from folk traditions, and it really swings offering the American palate compatibility on two levels. Let's not forget this relationship is not entirely new. Duke Ellington referred to Django as his favorite guitarist, and one gets the feeling from having heard the man, this wasn't out of politeness.