Like David Grisman, his longtime associate, multi-instrumentalist Joe Craven has no use for the border patrol. Django Latino is testimony to his world view, inspired by Reinhardt’s compositions and recordings, distinguished by an extraordinarily colorful array of Latin textures, rhythms and instruments. Though it’s not a jazz album per se, and will likely leave some Djangophiles scratching their heads and clutching their 78s, Django Latino is nonetheless a vibrant celebration of musical romance languages—and yes, it swings.
Reinhardt’s legacy—and the Manouche guitarist’s pivotal collaboration with violinist Stephane Grappelli—has preoccupied Craven for over 20 years, and it shows. The arrangements devised for pieces as familiar as “Minor Swing” and “Nuages,” or as worthy of resuscitation as “Sweet Chorus” and “Hungaria,” are little marvels, each highly distinctive in its own right. Suffice it to say that Craven has his hands full, playing mandola, violin, guiro and bombo and other instruments on “Minor Swing” alone. But as the album unfolds, with one imaginatively conceptualized performance following another, drawing on samba, son, merengue, tango and other Latin traditions, Craven’s vision plays a more prominent role than even his handiwork. “Nuages” is recast as a Creole-inspired danzon. “Douce Ambiance” underscores Haitian and Nigerian rhythmic ties. A cumbia-colored take on “Double Scotch/Artillerie Lourde” swiftly lives up to its billing as something capable of conjuring “a session between Thelonious Monk, Hermeto Pascoal and Carl Stalling.” All the while, Craven surrounds himself with kindred spirits, including pianist John R. Burr, saxophonist Heath Walton and percussionists Kendrick Freeman and Rick Montgomery.