Legend has itand Gary Burton has confirmed itthat by the late 1960's, Stéphane Grappelli was tiring of being treated like a relic of the Quintette du Hot Club de Paris. He was purported to become staid and unadventurous, even as he continued to grow and seek new challenges. Those challenges, however, didn't present themselves, and Grappelli was reduced to playing regular sessions at the Hilton in Paris, where visiting American jazz musicians often sat in with him.
And then, at the Newport Jazz Festival, producer George Wein tried to appease Grappelli's unhappiness by asking him what music did
he want to play, if not the Grappelli/Reinhardt chestnuts which had secured his fame, if not his fortune. Grappelli pointed to the raggedy, beaded and long-haired radical jazz musicians of the time, Gary Burton's group, and said, "With them." They did play at the spur of that moment, and to great acclaim.
A kinship was found and a friendship was formed, despite the age difference of approximately 35 years. Grappelli even composed a song, entitled "Gary," in honor of his new-found friend. The two of them promised to record the music they discovered together at Newport. Grappelli's violin combined with Burton's vibraphone to form a light, floating and yet hard-driving sound quite unlike anything else being produced at the time.
The next time that Burton toured in Europe, he stopped in Paris to record the album that the two master musicians had vowed to produce. Paris Encounter
is the result.
Long out of circulation, Paris Encounter
finally is available once again for us to savor, due in no small part to the initiative of Joel Dorn, the producer of the Atlantic Records session who now runs Label M. Only a couple years later, Burton left Atlantic to join the upstart European label, ECM, at the same time that his music took yet another direction.
The energy and technique of the two musicians of non-traditional jazz instruments are entirely gratifying, as is the total result. A combination of standards like "Here's That Rainy Day" with Grappelli's and Steve Swallow's original compositions, Paris Encounter
emphasizes the obvious joy of recording together over the deliberate choice of a rigorous repertoire. From the start, Grappelli swings with a vengeance on Reinhardt's "Daphne," a tune of simple enough changes that liberates him and Burton for a joyous collaboration, especially as they embellish the pauses during the stop-time chorus.
"Blue In Green" and "Sweet Rain"like "The Peacocks" in the respect that they're gorgeous tunes of unexpected intervals stress the strengths of violin and vibes and allow for sustenance of tones as the changes shift under them.
A closer listen reveals the changes in Burton's technique since the years when he first attained public recognition. On "Sweet Rain" and "Arpege," Burton slips in the bent notes with which he experimented as he opened up the instrument in a vocal-like way. Also, it seems that he hadn't disengaged the vibrato as he does today; an ever-so-slight waver takes place, although certainly not as pronounced as Milt Jackson's.
Grappelli's work is just as invigorating. With exceptional taste, he avoids the traps of a tune like "Coquette" as he rejects cuteness or a pronounced swing by interjecting unanticipated accents, almost a mini-scream, or by crafting lines that go the opposite direction from the one expected. On "Arpege," he adds undeniable emotional effect to the melody with an without becoming overwrought. And on "Blue In Green," Grappelli personalizes the tune by removing it from its hallowed status and allowing the use of more dramatic phrasing. Grappelli's improvisation on this jazz standard really is a classic performance worthy of repetition and study.
Grappelli's initial association with Burton revived his career until the end of his life. After listening to Paris Encounter,
the camaraderie between the two of them becomes unmistakable, and we realize how fortunate we are that Grappelli didn't sink into obscurity in the 1960's, instead of rising once again to worldwide acclaim.