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Bireli Lagrene Trio: Gypsy Trio

Victor L. Schermer By

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While his playing reflects diverse influences, guitarist Biréli Lagrène clearly comes out of the gypsy tradition of Django Reinhardt, whose 100th birthday is being celebrated in 2010. Gypsy Trio captures the feeling of Reinhardt's musical era, with some tunes, rhythms, and the atmosphere of a lively Paris nightclub between the two world wars—energetic and fun, but equally contemplative on lovely ballads, including Lagrène's "Sir F.D," and The Beatles' "Something." Lagrène plays with strong feeling, sometimes reminiscent of Charlie Byrd's acoustic stylings, which derives from one of Byrd's foremost influences being, in fact, Reinhardt, whom the American guitarist heard in Paris during his WWII Army enlistment in the 1940s

It is difficult to recapture the music of le jazz hot without making it cliché, but Lagrène manages to inject enough modern complexity into his playing to avoid musty historicism. Indeed, his virtuosity and mastery of contemporary idioms enhances the heat, and is seamlessly integrated with the rhythms and inflections of the early swing era, as well as Reinhardt's tart sound, vibrato, and on-the-beat emphasis.

Jazz today sometimes tends to be overly cool, intellectual, and intense, perhaps a reflection of the times, as well as the straining effort to stretch the limits of trends that were well-established in the second half of the twentieth century. By contrast, this album, while musically astute, is fun and enjoyable. In "Singin' in the Rain," Lagrène briefly sings and whistles the melody in street-wise fashion, while in "Be My Love," he gives a shot at topping Mario Lanza's famed operatic crescendos—which, depending on how it's perceived (parody, ruination, or awesome homage), may engender laughter, tears, or amazement. Still, there is no doubt that this album has a charm and lightness of being that is sorely missing from today's le jazz froid.

Guitarist Hono Winterstein and bassist Diego Imbert provide a steady rhythmic backing, with Winterstein's rhythm guitar coming off surprisingly well, in support of Lagerene's solos. Another successful use of such a combination can be heard on Polarity (Concord, 2000), where guitarist Joe Beck's self-constructed alto guitar backs Jimmy Bruno's flashy improvisations. Guitar "duels" are not that uncommon, but both these albums suggest that there are other ways of employing two guitars, either by themselves or within a small combo.

Cross-cultural exchanges—such as Lagrène's collaboration with American guitarist Vic Juris in Europe, a few years ago—are helping recharge contemporary jazz. Lagrène, who does most of his work in Europe, came to the U.S. in 2008, performing in New York and the northeast. Produced in France, Gypsy Trio suggests that his unique stylings would be welcomed back—and much appreciated—Stateside.

Track Listing: Lullaby of Birdland; New York City; Le Soir; Limehouse Blues; Poinciana; Schon Roesmarin/Night and Day; Sir F.D.; Something; Made in France; Singin' in the Rain; Tiger Rag; Change Partners; Micro; Be My Love.

Personnel: Bireli Lagrene:guitar; Hono Winterstein:guitar; Diego Imbert: double-bass.

Title: Gypsy Trio | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Dreyfus Records

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