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Dennis Chambers/Bireli Lagrene/Dominique di Piazza: Front Page

The ubiquitous Dennis Chambers makes another appearance on Front Page (Sunnyside), a trio date with the French guitar virtuoso Bireli Lagrene and bassist Dominique Di Piazza. One of the most astonishing guitar players in the tradition of the late Django Reinhardt, Lagrene has always felt a bit typecast in this role-probably with good reason since he made his record debut at the age of 13 with Routes to Django (Antilles). Consequently he occasionally steps out of character, once even embarking on an ill-fated European tour with Jaco Pastorius.

On Front Page he projects the distinct feeling of an after-hours session having a little off-duty fun “doing fusion.” From the opening “The First Step” there is warmth and humanity in his playing that is immediately apparent even at the fastest tempi. Playing astonishingly complex runs is second nature to him (Try “Dinello” to see what I mean), and even his throwaway lines on the title track are a delight, yet he is unafraid to make a simple statement. His playing on “The Eyes of Jesus Christ,” for example, betrays a distinct Johnny Smith feel-or was it that Smith listened to Django? Either way, Lagrene suggests a musician who has a hankering to forge a career away from the Django style, but can’t somehow bring himself to cut the umbilical to his heritage (listen to “Valbonne Song” to hear the stylistic quandary this poses for him). But to hear him at his best is something special; try the recent Gypsy Project (Dreyfus), where there’s no doubting you’re listening to a master musician at ease with his surroundings.

Originally Published