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Biréli Lagrène: Electric Side

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Electric Side is a studio fusion session, yet it comes across as one for the road, an exuberant summer festival soundtrack waiting to happen. Plugged in and occasionally evoking his early association with Jaco Pastorius, guitarist Biréli Lagrène scores points not only for fielding a top-notch, genre-blurring septet, featuring French bass phenom Hadrien Feraud, DJ Afro Cut-Nanga and steelpans player Andy Narell, but also for crafting an album that radiates a disarmingly lighthearted spirit.

Not that there isn’t some serious musicianship on display. Witness the fluid improvisations fashioned by Lagrène, Feraud and tenor saxophonist Franck Wolf on “Thimothée,” for example. Or the brightly animated ensemble work that brings Herbie Hancock’s “Jack Rabbit” to cartoonish life and infuses Lagrène’s “Foreign Affairs” with bristling energy. (Credit drummer Damien Schmitt for the frequent rhythmic jolts.) Subtle touches also come into play, particularly on Feraud’s ballad “Clair Obscur,” an atmospheric showcase for Narell, keyboardist Michael Lecon and reedman Wolf, on soprano sax.

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