Review: The Django Festival AllStars

Even though Django Reinhardt, the man who invented “gypsy jazz,” was a full-blooded gypsy himself, the genre has always felt more French than “gypsy” to me; the only things that it takes from traditional gypsy are the use of string instruments (bass, guitar) to create rhythmic effects, and a love of arpeggios. The use of violin and accordion is more redolent of bal-musette, an instrumental variety of Parisian cabaret music. Coming out of a festival of gypsy jazz named for the genre’s founder, The Django Festival AllStars play a particularly vigorous version of the music that incorporates elements of bebop and even jazz fusion, without ever leaving behind the distinctive sound that Reinhardt invented.

Gypsy jazz originated in the 1920s and 1930s, a time when “hot” was a byword for playing jazz hard, fast and fiery. And boy do these AllStars know how to turn on exactly that kind of heat! In particular button-accordionist Ludovic Beier improvises with a blazing intensity and swirling dexterity more often associated with horn players. Violinist Pierre Blanchard knew and was directly influenced by Stéphane Grappelli, Django’s own violin player; once again though, the playing is hotter and more fierce than Grappelli’s, even at times soulful.

Lead guitarist Samson Schmitt comes from a family of gypsy jazz guitarists with connections to Reinhardt (his father played with Django’s son), and while he can effortlessly play with the precision and flash of Beier or Blanchard, he is better thought of as the rock-solid center of this assemblage. Rhythm guitarist DouDou Cuillerier provides the genre-defining beat – provocatively called la pompe – and is also the genial goofball of the group, and proves a skillful vocalist on his single solo turn. Bassist Antonio Licusati has probably the least ostentatious role in this dazzling ensemble, but he supports Cuillerier’s pompe with subtle harmonic inventiveness. Le jazz hot, indeed! Recommended.

For tickets, click here.

To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.

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