This is not the anthology of Django Reinhardt's music that it first looks to be but rather a gathering of some of the master guitarist's songs along with interpretations of well-known and not-so-well-known songs by famed Impressionst music composers, as well as a few group originals, all peformed by San Francisco's Hot Club band. The Azica label put it out and Naxos is carrying it (I reviewed Naxos' killer jazz DVD box-set discs separately in these pages: Roland Kirk, Nina Simone, Lionel Hampton, etc.) so, as is customary to the label, it's an impeccable venture from a music ensemble decades experienced, carried by imprints with exquisite taste.
The intent was not to slavishly entablature Reinhardt's dazzling work yet again, as has been done periodically in the jazz realm, but to re-present it in their own arrangements as an homage. At that, they've succeeded famously. However, the band's own numbers are highly impressive as well: Paul Mehling's Waltz for M.C. Escher, as one instance, is absolutely haunting, evoking the gentlest most picturesque sides of Debussy, Satie, Ravel, and the era wherein classicalism hit one of several zeniths, representative of a cross in what the group is assured influenced Reinhardt in his compositions.
The Hot Club of San Francisco is a string quintet (3 guitars, bass, violin) and couldn't have found a better individual to stand in for Reinhardt's ol' buddy Stephane Grapelli than Evan Price, who also plays what's tongue-in-cheekily called an "acoustic theremin" (a bowed saw). His violin work, though, is flawless, perfectly carrying the sweet dulcet tones of Grapelli, whether in slow sonority or the way-highly-charged virtuosity Stephane and Django were famed for.
The recording, as well, is letter perfect, the sound field perfectly positioned, and the balance warm, allowing every aspect of the disc to flow out to its natural perimeters...but then every Naxos product is a marvel of engineering, so we expect they'd choose their ancillary product with equal perspicacity. The label hires some of the best ears in the business, and that side group attacks their task with gusto.
On the bluegrassy cut of Jelly Roll Morton's The Pearls, you can almost picture the gents gathered on an Arkansas backwoods porch, havin' themselves jes' a good ol' time. Elsewhere, there's swing, lament, and chamber, so the Hot Club never stays long in one mode, the disc all the better for it. If you're hungering for the era when Goodman, Shaw, the Dorseys were raving it up, matched across the waters by a movement of equal vigor centered in Reinhardt's progressive strains beyond the dazzling work the Americans were producing (and listen to Goodman's Yale recordings if you want to hear how Reinhardt influenced him), then this is your portal to the past and a golden heyday.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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