Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Bireli Lagrene: Blue Eyes

A plectorist of prodigious talents, Bireli Lagrene is easily the equal of Ron Affif, Jimmy Bruno, Jack Wilkins or any other Stateside straightahead jazz guitarist. Because he grew up in public as a Django Reinhardt imitator before blossoming into a full-fledged fusioneer with distortion pedal and solid body electric, it is sometimes forgotten that Bireli can swing standards with the best of ’em. On this program of tunes associated with Frank Sinatra, he does just that.

Recorded last year in Paris with Maurice Vander on piano, Chris Minh Doky on bass, and Andre Ceccarelli on drums, this Sinatra tribute is full of the same verve and exhilarating fretboard runs that Bireli has brought to bear on Django and fusion fare in the past. That he kills on every tune-blowing incredibly fluid lines on everything from burning renditions of “A Foggy Day” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” to a sizzling “It’s Alright With Me” – is no surprise for this 32-year-old phenom who has been blowing minds with his astounding technique since he was 13. What’s surprising is how effective he is at singing a few of these Sinatra nuggets. On “The Lady Is A Tramp,” “My Kind Of Town,” “You Make Me Feel So Young,” and a particularly smoking rendition of “Luck Be A Lady” you can hear the obvious influence of Sinatra’s phrasing, as if Bireli had absorbed these tunes phonetically as a youth before even learning to speak a word of English. And while Lagrene may not be a reincarnation of The Voice, he does present these Sinatra staples with requisite swagger and a dash of sass.

His instrumental renditions of “Witchcraft” and “Come Fly With Me” are full of soulful nuance and underscored by a relaxed sense of swing. He cleverly renders “Here’s That Rainy Day” as a bossa nova and lets his gypsy soul sing on a gorgeous “April In Paris.” This one harkens back to Lagrene’s excellent 1992 outing for Blue Note, Standards. It features some remarkable playing by one of our modern-day guitar virtuosos. It’s also a worthy showcase of a whole string of great American songwriters like Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, Frank Loesser, Vernon Duke, George & Ira Gershwin, Rodgers & Hart, and Cole Porter. Bireli has done them and ol’ Blue Eyes proud on this swinging tribute.

Originally Published