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December 1998

Django Reinhardt
Django and His American Friends
DRG Records

Assembled from Reinhardt's immense discography, this three-disc set features most of his recorded collaborations with American musicians. Presented in chronological order and spanning from 1935 to 1945, the 57 performances reflect the stylistic changes during that period of not only swing in general, but also Reinhardt's overall improvisational approach to the guitar.

Featured on half of the 16 tracks, Coleman Hawkins dominates the first disc, contributing expressive, seamless tenor choruses to a brisk reading of "Avalon," an easy grooving "Honeysuckle Rose," and a frantic "Crazy Rhythm," which also includes Benny Carter on alto. Django plays with his typically eccentric Gypsy-inspired aplomb, and longtime partner Stephane Grappelli alternates between violin and piano. Other featured Yanks include trumpeter Bill Coleman and pianist Garnet Clark.

All of the tracks on the second disc are from 1937; performances featuring Bill Coleman and violinist Eddie South predominate. Here a handful of duos and trios stand apart from the usual small group settings. At times sounding an awfully lot like Eddie Lang, Django accompanies South on "Eddie's Blues," while "Bill Coleman Blues" features a laid-back dialog between muted trumpet and a rhythm guitar part peppered with quirky chordal punctuations. Grappelli joins South and Reinhardt for some intricate, tandem fiddle work on swing interpretations of two pieces by J.S. Bach and "Fiddle Blues," which features a curious double-violin underpinning that supports the guitar solo.

The continuity of the material on disc three is interrupted by a war years gap from 1940 to 1945. Prewar performances include "Blue Light Blues" with Benny Carter (this time on trumpet), "Low Cotton" with clarinetist Rex Stewart, and "I Got Rhythm" with harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler, whose amazing facility does little to offset the novelty aspect of his instrument. Django turns in some of his best work on the 1945 tracks with his American Swing Band (directed by Jack Platt), including bluesy, spaciously phrased chorus on "Swing Guitars" and "Are You in the Mood."

One of the more conceptually astute repackagings of Django's work, this set finds him in good company throughout, largely unencumbered by the oft-criticized plodding rhythm sections that he frequently recorded with.

Originally published in December 1998
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