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Various Artists: Django Reinhardt NY Festival: Live at Birdland

To appreciate Django Reinhardt’s lasting influence and the degree to which his worship can be taken-for better or worse-check out Django Reinhardt NY Festival Live at Birdland (Division One/Atlantic), which features a large cast of characters both American and European, including Hollander Jimmy Rosenberg (a firecracker of an imitator), Frank Vignola (a musical chameleon who can play a variety of styles convincingly), swing guitar great Bucky Pizzarelli and Django’s son Babik Reinhardt (on electric guitar; ironically, he’s not a Django imitator, but an evolved player with his own, more modern style). Grappelli bassist Jon Burr and drummer Joe Ascione round out the rhythm section.

Throughout the set, which, true to form, draws heavily from the Reinhardt repertoire, Rosenberg, who’s in his early 20s, puts nearly every other Django copyist to shame with his technical abilities, which are nothing short of astounding, especially at breakneck tempos. Tours de force include “The Sheik of Araby,” “Gypsymania” and “Limehouse Blues,” where Rosenberg and Vignola engage in remarkable tandem single-note displays. Other highlights include a nice reading of “Nuages” (with Pizzarelli), the Rosenberg original “Turkish Delights,” and “Une Histoire Simple,” with Babik Reinhardt. Inexplicably, violinist Regina Carter and Bireli Lagrene (who began his career as a Gypsy wunderkind and grew into a fine modern guitarist) appeared at the festival but aren’t on the recording.

Finally, despite the level of accomplishment of those who play in the Django style, the question always remains: Why not just listen to Django? After all, he was probably the most extensively recorded jazz guitarist ever, and undoubtedly is the most reissued guitarist of all time.

Originally Published