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Often, tribute recordings are nothing more than a way to get over to a wider audience by exploiting the innovations and persona of past musical giants. When done with sincerity, however, a tribute captures the essence of the honoree while eschewing mimicry and blatant commercial intent. Such is the case with Last Train to Hauteville, a lively outing by Scottish guitar virtuoso Martin Taylor and his Spirit of Django ensemble. The acclaimed ensemble was formed by Taylor in 1994 to celebrate the musical lore of the legendary Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. After several years of hiatus, Spirit of Django returns to mark the 100th birthday celebration of Reinhardt, one of the founders of European jazz.
Taylor, who first came to prominence in the 1970s accompanying violinist and Reinhardt associate Stephane Grappelli, evokes Reinhardt's zestful swing phrasing, full of diatonic sweeps and string bends, albeit with a contemporary flair. For example, his solo on the up tempo title track mixes an undeniable Reinhardt influence with Tal Farlow-style bebop twists and Wes Montgomery octaves. The disc's breezy foray into the Brazilian territory of samba and bossa nova on "Rue de Dinan," "Mirette," and "La Belle Dundee" allows the guitarist to settle into a relaxed groove, unencumbered by nostalgic preconception. On these tracks, especially the closing "La Belle Dundee," Taylor delivers jaw- dropping single-note lines a la Joe Pass or George Benson; the kinds of lines that make other guitarists do a double take.
Accordionist Jack Emblow and clarinetist Alan Barnes share the front line with Taylor and keep pace with the leader's unrelenting intensity and incomparable technique. Emblow floats elegantly in pianistic fashion on the jazz waltz "Le Jardin Anglais" and creates an improvised flurry on the rollicking "Double Scotch." Barnes utilizes quick-fire agility and a smoke-filled clarinet tone, swinging heartily throughout, especially on the toe-tapping "Madame Haricot" and "Monsieur Jacques."
Rhythm guitarist John Goldie, bassist Terry Gregory, drummer James Taylor and, on a couple of tracks, vocalist Alison Burns round out this tight, well rehearsed ensemble. Perhaps less a tribute and more an embrace of the energetic genius of Reinhardt, Spirit of Django sheds new light on a rich musical lineage.
Track Listing: Last Train to Hauteville; Rue de Dinan; Le Jardin Anglais; Double
Scotch; La Mer; Madame Haricot; Roberta; Mirette; La Javanaise; Le
Touch; J'Attendrai; Monsieur Jacques; La Belle Dundee.
Personnel: Martin Taylor: guitar; John Goldie: guitar; Terry Gregory: bass; James
Taylor: drums; Jack Emblow: accordion; Alan Barnes: clarinet, saxophone;
Alison Burns: vocals.