Close your eyes and play any one of the 28 songs on this two-disc set. Guess when the recordings were made, who's playing and how old the player is. It sounds like the catchy, acoustic guitar swing pioneered by Django Reinhardt at the Hot Club de France in Paris during the 1930s.
Hard as it is to believe, though, these recordings were made during the early 1980s, when fusion and disco reigned in jazz. Even more surprising, the fingers finessing the fretboard belong to 13-year-old prodigy Bireli Lagrene. There's a sense of shock seeing the beautiful young virtuoso pictured on the cover and listening to the depth of beauty he brings to this music.
His technique and creativity - largely self taught seem well beyond his years. His perceptions of swing are deep and abiding. And, in his true Gypsy heritage, he roams without trepidation through this music and with a grace that is both inspired and intellectual. Surely, his is the sound of surprise.
This beautifully packaged two-disc German set reissues the first of Lagrene's solo albums, the live Routes To Django
(1980, with one previously unreleased bonus track), and the similar studio recording, Bireli Swing '81
(1981). The two discs are well paired and catch the guitarist right before he came over to fusion (with Jaco Pastorius) and the more contemporary sounds (i.e. with Larry Coryell) he still records today. Lagrene is heard with an adult trio featuring Jan Jankeje on bass and Gaiti Lagrene and Tschirglo Loeffler strumming out the eighth-note time on rhythm guitar, with the occasional addition of a violin (ala Grappelli), piano, trumpet, soprano sax or drums.
Lagrene proves himself a player of unique prowess on the familiar Reinhardt numbers ("Djangology," "Nuages," "Swing Valse"), and offers startling impressions of Django-inflected standards ("All Of Me," "Lady Be Good," "September Song," "Night And Day"). Some of Lagrene's song choices are uniquely surprising too: a theme from the Fassbinder film, Querelle
(one of the bassist's contributions) and Jobim's "Wave," a Hot Club de France treatment certainly suggesting one "Route to Django."
When Lagrene picks up the electric guitar, however, one hears a personable identity forming. On these occasions ("Limehouse Blues," "Nuages," "How High The Moon"), the effect is awesome. Lagrene's fleet fingers seem to race against the clock. But there's a restraint, patience, even a relaxed sensibility - the kind a good storyteller knows how to employ - that make these occasions the disc's most memorable.
Now in his thirties, Lagrene has certainly grown up a bit since these recordings were made. One wonders what he thinks of them now. But, somehow, as time marches on, one suspects these recordings will remain vital and endure. Regardless, this set is a necessary document in the legacy of a startling talent.Songs:
Fiso Place; Bireli Swing 1979; All of Me; Tschirglo Waltz; Latches; I've Found A New Baby; My Melancholy Baby; Bluma; Bireli Blues 1979; Wave; Don't Worry 'Bout Me; Boxer Boogie; Mirage; B.L.; Swing Valse; Djangology; Bireli Hi Gogoro; Lady Be Good; Thundering Noise; Erster Tango (Soundtrack Querelle); September Song; Black Eyes; I Can't Give You Anything; Carlos; Limehouse Blues; Nuages; How High The Moon; Night And Day.Players:
Bireli Lagrene: guitar; Jan Jankeje: bass; Gaiti Lagrene, Tschirglo Loeffler: rhythm guitar; Bernd Marquart: trumpet on "I've Found A New Baby"; Wolfgang Lackerschmidt: trumpet on "Latches"; Bernd Rabe: soprano Sax; Jorg Reiter: piano on "Bireli Swing 1979" and "Boxer Boogie"; Allen Blairman: drums; Schmilo Kling: violin on "My Melancholy Baby".