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November 2006

Bireli Lagrene
Gipsy Project: Live in Paris

The Gypsy-jazz phenomenon is an indelible one, with an entire musical culture whose fervent devotion will ensure the name Django endures as healthily as Miles and Mozart. Though Reinhardt’s disciples are numerous and devastatingly talented, from Jimmy Rosenberg and Frank Vignola to any number of Hot Club caravan-shredders in cafes scattered across the U.S. and Europe, Bireli Lagrene still does Reinhardt best. Generating buzz as a teenaged gypsy prodigy during the early 1980s, Lagrene eventually grew out of his indigenous Django-jazz and aimed to conquer blues, bop, rock and fusion styles. As an adult he wandered back to his European “gipsy” roots, and this 2005 concert DVD, appropriately shot in Paris, showcases not only Lagrene’s otherworldly ability to replicate Django, but also his bop wizardry and his outright mastery of instrumental performance in general—perhaps in homage to his passed friend and bandmate Jaco Pastorius, Lagrene dons a Fender bass and grooves (as well as solos) with primary-instrument ease.

He’s at his most brilliant when furiously swinging through Hot Club standards like “Nuages,” “Hungaria” and “Minor Swing,” expertly coaxing each half-step bend and Romanian flourish with romance during the heads and dropping jaws during the solo sections. Gorgeously filmed, Live in Paris focuses mostly on the obligatory fretboard shots, but where that’s an annoyance in other concert films, it’s an asset here. Lagrene’s hands writhe and contort in acrobatic ways, and there’s a humorous absurdity about his virtuosity: Save for Lord Django himself, it’s hard to imagine someone performing this music any better. Also included is a 45-minute bonus documentary that traces Lagrene’s musical development and features interview segments, rehearsal footage and concert snippets.

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