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May 2011

Howard Alden
I Remember Django
Arbors Records

I Remember Django scarcely qualifies as a hard sell. Guitarist Django Reinhardt’s legacy, after all, has long been a sweet spot for Howard Alden, the renowned seven-string disciple with a track record that speaks eloquently for itself. If Woody Allen hadn’t entrusted Alden with the responsibility of hitting all the right notes during the melancholic, Django-indebted charmer Sweet and Lowdown, would Sean Penn, the film’s star, have seemed so convincing in the role? Fat chance.

As it happens, Sweet and Lowdown inspires a highlight performance on this 13-track homage, a medley of “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” and “I’ll See You in My Dreams” that is soulfully enhanced by cornetist Warren Vaché. The well-matched musicians get off to a splendid start with “Who Cares?,” and spend much of their time shading and trading lines with the kind of precision and effortlessness a Reinhardt celebration demands. Alden is in fine company throughout, with bassist Jon Burr and rhythm guitarist Matt Munisteri providing expert support. The guitarist goes it alone on “Nagasaki,” however, a crackling tour de force.

Elsewhere, the five collaborations with clarinetist Anat Cohen are as welcome as they are evocative. They include an appropriately buoyant rendering of “Up Jumped You With Love,” a lushly textured interpretation of Barney Kessel’s “I Remember Django,” and, best of all, a now sensuous, now spirited take on “Nuages.” No doubt Reinhardt—and occasional clarinetist Allen—would approve.

Originally published in May 2011
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