In the early '50s, near the end of his life, Django Reinhardt had switched to electric guitar and was playing in a more bebop vein. He was evolving. Little did he know that it was his acoustic, swing-based Hot Club work of the '30s that would give rise to vast numbers of imitators.
What would Django have thought? Would he have cared?
While those questions will never be answered, he remains the most blatantly imitated jazz guitarist to have worn shoe leather. Today, especially in Europe, where the past takes on dimensions unknown to most Americans, myriad groups model themselves after the Hot Club, and several Django/Gypsy jazz festivals are held each year.
While most Django imitators by definition are highly derivative in approach and execution-if the great Gypsy hadn't lived, they wouldn't exist-occasionally somebody emerges from the time warp to at least demonstrate that they're a cut above the pack and maybe even offer a surprise or two. One such player is Fapy Lafertin, whose latest CD, Fleur D'Ennui (Jazz Is Timeless), features the Fapy Lafertin Quintet.
Like Django, Lafertin is the real McCoy, having been raised in a Manouche Gypsy family, which, of course, doesn't make his playing any less derivative but does give him a credential that most six-string pretenders don't have. Despite his playing's origins, Lafertin, after one listening, has got to be admired for the way he enthusiastically floats over his group's bouncy Hot Club-esque tandem guitar rhythm section on tunes like "Fascinating Rhythm" and "Just One of Those Things," where he tosses off Django licks like he's been playing them since he's been in short pants, which he probably has. Throughout, Dutch violinist Tim Kliphuis matches him note for note in terms of technique and spirit, skillfully playing the role of Django's sidekick, Stephane Grappelli. And while the set draws heavily from Reinhardt's vocabulary and repertoire, a breath of fresh air wafts through the program in the form of four nicely arranged Brazilian choros, which paved the way for the emergence of samba and bossa nova, by the likes of Pixinguinha and Ernesto Nazareth. The choros help this album rise above offerings by the seemingly endless stream of Gypsy knockoffs who are out there.