Just the Way You Are
By the time guitarist Biréli Lagrène briefly turns crooner here and asks, “Why not take all of me?” it’s a safe bet some Djangophiles will be willing to decline the invitation. Lagrène is out to reach a wide audience on Just the Way You Are, and if the Billy Joel-penned title cut isn’t sufficient warning for those in hot pursuit of Hot Club-evoking sounds, or even a modern facsimile, then the inclusion of “Love Me Tender” should do the trick. (Of course, Elvis himself might have enjoyed Lagrène’s jaunty take on the tune, with its finger-popping pulse, tremolo riffs and skittish solo.) Post-swing-era jazz guitar influences frequently surface on this small-combo session. George Benson is represented by his composition “Before You Go,” which inspires a string of choruses showcasing Lagrène’s remarkably fluid touch, and Wes Montgomery’s memory is evoked by the album’s coda “Tim and Zoe,” with its lush arrangement and octave-laced runs. Still, there’s nothing quite as appealing as hearing Lagrène on acoustic guitar, reprising “I’ll See You in My Dreams” with Django-like panache (and tipping his hat to Chet Atkins in the bargain), or reinvigorating Reinhardt’s “Feerie” with a big assist from reedman Franck Wolf and drummer Andre Ceccarelli. A capable balladeer, Lagrène’s rendering of “All of Me” offers a romantic, John Pizzarelli-like interlude, but it’s no surprise that the album’s highlights revolve around his six-string virtuosity—acoustic and electric, Django-inspired and not.