Live at Birdland & More!-- Django Festival Allstars 2012

As long as each new generation produces musicians attracted by the spirit, artistry, and distinctive flavor of Gypsy jazz, the genre will long endure, aided by Hot Clubs and related festivals worldwide. The music on this CD is taken from the 14th annual Django Reinhardt New York Festival at Birdland in 2012, as well as from a Paris recording session that same year. Among those performing are guitarist-violinist Dorado Schmitt and his three guitar playing sons Samson, Amati, and Bronson, Ludovic Beier on accordion, accordina, and bandoneon, Pierre Blanchard on violin, Franko Mehrstein and Doudou Cuillerier on rhythm guitars, Xavier Nikq on bass, and soprano saxophonist Anat Cohen and cellist Jisoo Ok on one track each. These artists impart a respect for the groundbreaking example set by the Quintette du Hot Club de France led by Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli in the '30's, while injecting more modern influences into the mix to refreshing and beneficial effect. (The scope and diversity of Gypsy jazz in the 21st century is made even more apparent by listening to the Gypsy jazz channel at JAZZRADIO.com.)

The traditional "Swing Gitan" features Beier's accordion and Dorado's guitar robustly taking on the syncopated theme. Schmitt's driving, finely woven solo is propelled by the momentum of Niko's bass, and Beier's improv displays his fluid technique and emotional thrust. Dorado plays his own glowing ballad "For Pierre" on violin with unabashed sentimentality and feeling, sensitively accompanied by just bass and rhythm guitar. The title "Balkanic Dance" says it all, as composer Blanchard's swirling intro evokes Indian music, and the rhythms and the violinist's exuberant exposition combine swing with Eastern European folk dance. Beier has an apt turn also, as does one of the Schmitts (unidentified) on guitar. Reinhardt's "Nuages" spotlights Cohen's soprano and Dorado's guitar. Cohen sounds nothing like Sidney Bechet here, but is just as lyrically mesmerizing as the jazz great. Dorado's solo captures Django's essence, but also within his own personal style. Beier's lightly buzzing accordion adds an affecting background touch.

Blanchard's waltz, "Valse en Exil," exudes a romantic Parisian atmosphere created by the violinist's sweetly rippling phrases and Samson's impeccably articulated guitar, perfectly conjuring a time and place. Beier's accordion, Dorado's guitar, and Blanchard's violin blend engagingly on the infectious samba-like "El Dorado," and the three front liners develop passionate, technically involving solos. Reinhardt's "Manor de Mes Reves" finds Beier taking the lyrical lead on accordina, a mouth accordion sounding not unlike an harmonica. Dorado's lilting guitar and Niko's resonant bass are in rapt accord throughout Beier's extended solo and bittersweet coda. The ecstatic applause at the end is well-deserved. Blanchard buoyantly delineates the melody of "Out of Nowhere," with some Grappelli-derived flourishes. Dorado's intricate, polished spot precedes the artful ebb and flow of Blanchard's, not to mention his majestic coda.

Dorado's intro to "Camping Car" is boppish, and the theme itself is remindful of "Caravan" and Eastern European dance. Composer Beier's solo is captivatingly expressive and Blanchard burns and struts during his stint. The ever-shifting moods and textures make this a riveting journey, with Niko doing yeoman's work. "Song For Ettore" is dedicated to the co-producer (with Pat Philips) of the Django Festival in New York, Ettore Stratta. With Beier on bandoneon and Dorado on violin, this piece straddles Gypsy jazz and tango in its rhythms and aura. Amati's guitar solo is delicately struck, while Beier and Dorado's brief turns swell with emotion. Bronson Schmitt is upfront on his own soulfully grooving "Bronson's Song," which might have fit nicely on one of George Benson's CTI albums, as the guitarist's approach has much in common with Benson's vibrant and dexterous style. Beier's accordion and Dorado's guitar convene on the swinging Beier opus "Pat's Waltz." His theme reading and subsequent solo are winding and uplifting, and the guitarist's workout is equally intense.

"Them Their Eyes" sounds right out of the Hot Club of Paris, this version highlighted by Samson's fleet-fingered, diversified solo, Beier's melodically enriched venture, and Blanchard's flashy, declarative summation. Dorado's "Melissa" has a catchy theme and a swaying rhythm. Samson again impresses in a Django-influenced solo with modern enhancements, and Blanchard and Beier trade gratifyingly prior to the tasty reprise. "Bossa Dorado," perhaps Dorado's best-known composition, is well-interpreted with the added bonus of Ok's sinuous cello improvisation. Dorado and Beier supply heated and varied solos, and Blanchard glides dynamically through his exploration. Rhythm guitarists Mehrstein and Samson Schmitt shine as well on this pulsating Bossa Nova/Samba hybrid.

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Scott Albin