8 August 2005
NY Jazz Report's Thad Kawecki and Will Wolf visited Alice Tully Hall on Tuesday 27 July 2005 to catch Pat Philips and Ettore Stratta's annual celebration of Django Reinhardt.
Kawecki: At the time of his death at the age of forty-three, Django Reinhardt was already a legend. As prolific as he was innovative, Reinhardt left behind a wealth of recordings that continue to influence and inspire. These sessions (especially the tracks recorded with his musical foil Stephane Grappelli), have spawned numerous admirers, emulators, and festivals on both sides of the Atlantic.
Wolf: For the third consecutive year, and before a full house at Alice Tully Hall, producers Pat Philips and Ettore Stratta brought together a melange of today's best gypsy jazz interpreters. And for variety, and a little spice, they added maestro Paquito D'Rivera on clarinet. It made for a swinging evening.
Kawecki: Literally. The night's repetoire was primarily composed of medium to uptempo swing tunes, including a generous peppering of standards.
Wolf: And as performed by a variety of configurations and instrumentation, it provided the listener a sampling of guitar styles amongst the Reinhardt disciples.
Kawecki: As one would expect, a Django tribute is a guitar-centric event. At times during this concert there were three guitarists playing simultaneously, and occasionally even four. Each hailed from Europe, had a prodigious technique, and employed similar Django-isms in his playing. None, however, was fully successful in reaching the Reinhardt ideal, each letting chops trump style to a greater or lesser degree.
Wolf: The youngest player, Joscho Stephan from Germany, opened the show with a series of bouncy tunes, enlivening the audience with his fiery (and sometiimes flashy) approach. His father, Gunter, provided solid, idiomatically correct swing accompaniment on rhythm guitar over the walking bass lines of Max Schaff.
Kawecki: Subbing for his father, Dorado, who cancelled due to an arm injury, was Samson Schmitt, the most restrained of the three lead players. Able, but sometimes a bit cautious, his best effort was a confident reading of the elder Schmitt's "Bossa Dorado."
Wolf: And leading the pack, from France, was Angelo Debarre, a Manouche gypsy like his mentor, and the most accomplished and expressive of the the three. Throughout the evening, you could always count on him to deliver thoughtful and spirited interpretations. He was also the one guitarist who most closely approached his muse.
Kawecki: Off-setting this juggernaut of guitars was Florin Niculescu, a violinist of the Grappelli school, and Ludovic Beier on chromatic button accordion. Niculescu's playing could be taut or rhapsodic depending on the setting. A fine swing player, Niculescu proved his mettle on "Honeysuckle Rose," trading fours with D'Rivera and more than holding his own. Beier was equally as versatile, and fond of spinning long, filagree lines through the changes.
Wolf: The communication between Niculescu and D'Rivera (quite the sartorial dandy) provided one of the highlights of the evening. Their appreciation for one another's musicality was very apparent, and along with their wit and sense of humor added to the overall flavor of the music.
Kawecki: Beier and Debarre, who have worked together in Europe, shared a similar rapport. This was especially evident in their improvised duet (loosely based on the Hungarian Dance #5 by Brahms) that featured extensive rubato playing and abrupt changes in tempo and dynamics.
Wolf: Although, as you already mentioned, the evening did fall a little short in providing the full spirit of Django Reinhardt, (and, indeed, might have worked better in a shorter format), it did evoke enough of his character, temperament, and style to make for an an exciting event.
Kawecki: Well, the audience certainly thought so, and throughout the evening rewarded the musicians with generous applause and even a cheer or two. Clearly, it felt the spirit.
DJANGO REINHARDT SWING PAGE
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