A multi-virtuoso, Joe Craven displays a dazzling set of fiery chops on a literal cornucopia of instruments -- violin, mandola, cavaquinio, baritone ukulele, reco-reco, sordu, shaker, triangle, tambourine, quica, mandolin, guiro, bongos, mandola, panderetas, jawbone, toys, palmas, oudolin, palmas, cajon, bells, chekere, bomba, and various other percussives—but it's sometimes in the completely unexpected places that he most sets the mouth agape, as when rattling off a hyperkinetic set of bongo lines in Sweet Chorus as adeptly and perfectly as a mridingam master's best.
His seduction of the violin is perhaps the most arresting, complimenting the inspiration taken from Stephane Grapelli, unleashing a sweet and pure tone that was the trademark of the French maestro, a gent who got well past the sonorous rasping of other practitioners, taking the instrument constantly up into a stratosphere of sonic ambrosia as clear and clean as a warm Spring's morning, the Itzthak Perlman of jazz. Obviously, Craven knew well where to draw breath and fodder—but, as if that weren't enough, latch onto his uke or mando playing, and the marvel of it all begins to set in.
If you've never yourself played markedly dissimilar instruments, let alone strummed or tapped on just one, allow me to relate what completely different sets of muscles and discipline it takes to become proficient, not to mention the thousands of hours necessary to each. The prospect of completely mastering a single axe is daunting enough, but when one undertakes to ace up a whole panoply of them, well, it's not for normal mortals is all I'm saying.
But that's precisely what galvanized Craven purely as a player, let alone what inspired this tribute to the acclaimed gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt and Reinhardt's equally noted partner, Grapelli. Driven to compensate for the maiming of one of his hands, the historied guitar player developed an unorthodox style all the more astounding for his inability to read notation or to name chords. Despite those impediments, he changed the face of jazz, creating what we now know as "hot jazz". To hear him play is to know a gypsy John Coltrane, a Euro Charlie Parker, a Balkan Benny Goodman. Grapelli, on the other hand, was never nearly so markedly radical…yet still indisputably a virtuoso and a perfect double for the Reinhardt.
Though the dexterities here are often furious, emotive, and be-boppy, there are also more languid takes, tunes like "Douce Ambiance", which boast a nearly serial-minimal base with dreamy incidentalist toss-ins and folk-vocal refrains. On almost every song, Craven multi-synchs himself, becoming a one-man ensemble, with assorted sessioneers flanking. He also takes the sound over to danzón, bolero, samba, flamenco, and other latinate bases, modes for which Reinhardt's work is ideally suited. Craven played with David Grisman for 17 years, so you know he has swing, bluegrass, bossa, and other complex styles knocked cold, nor are his own sidemen lacking in any way, as especially Heath Walton shows on an a very tasty tenor sax.
Django Latino" can't help but please the very particular connoisseurs of demanding world and jazz musics, not to mention prairie Americana, so whether you're a devotee of Grisman, Subramaniam, McLaughlin, Piazzola, or any of a host of stultifyingly accomplished musicians, this CD will speak eloquently, often volcanically, to you. As Buster Poindexter would say: "Hot! Hot! HOT!"
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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