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Stephane Grappelli: Sweet Georgia Brown

Hearing the three CDs in this boxed set made me relisten to Grappelli’s 1930s and ’40s work to assure myself that his playing was as fine as I recalled. It was, but by the time these Black Lion albums were cut in 1973 he’d become very inconsistent, and not because he was getting old and losing his chops. Rather he’d succumbed to his inclination to play charmingly. During the first CD, containing duets with Alan Clare on piano and celeste and the second, a quartet with pianist Roland Hanna, he plays the violin equivalent of cocktail piano, concentrating on decorative rather than substantive playing and using vibrato in a schmaltzy way.

Only on the third, a live appearance with the Hot Club of London, does he get anything going. This group emulates the Quintet of the Hot Club of France but plays with sufficient vigor to inspire Grappelli. Check out his work on “Them There Eyes,” “After You’ve Gone” and “Sweet Georgia Brown;” he’s inventing, swinging, building, a welcome contrast to his work during the other CDs.

The Hot Club trio, guitarists Denny Wright and Diz Disley and bassist Len Skeat, is imitative, but Wright mimics Django Reinhardt’s soloing pretty well and at least they get Grappelli off his butt.

Originally Published