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Biréli Lagrène: Gipsy Project and Friends

Once known as “the infant Django” to European jazz audiences, Bireli Lagrene made his mark at the age of 13 as a virtual reincarnation of the great Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. As Lagrene matured, he eventually moved on to explore and master bebop and fusion; however, in recent years, he has periodically revisited his roots, evidenced by his work on 2002’s Gipsy Project & Friends (Dreyfus), where he’s supported by an ensemble that includes bass, violin, vocals and a host of guitarists.

Throughout, Bireli acknowledges Reinhardt at every turn, as he raises the roof with commanding technique that includes blistering tremolos, blinding runs and an imposing cadre of other devices. Tunes like “Djangology,” “When Day Is Done” and the finger-twisting “Babik” will have listeners on the edge of their seats, as he plays with levels of suspenseful spontaneity rarely known in the Gypsy jazz world. Contrasting tunes include the soulful “Ou Es-Tu Mon Amour?” “Laura,” with its virtuosic introduction, and the plaintive “Une Histoire Simple.”

While Lagrene continues to work in more modern settings, including an electric bebop duo with Django’s son Babik, when he does revert to playing Gypsy jazz, only a couple of guitarists in the world can rival his spontaneity, technique and deep feel for the style that Reinhardt pioneered in the ’30s.

Originally Published