BOHEMIAN MAESTRO: DJANGO REINHARDT AND THE IMPRESSIONISTS
Works by Mehling, Price, Reinhardt, Debussy, Poulenc, Morton, Villa-Lobos, and Brassens.
Jeffrey Kahane (piano), The Aeros Quintet, The Hot Club of San Francisco.
AZICA AJD-72241 (F) (DDD) TT: 59:10.
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Stylin'. Paris in the Twenties and Thirties conjures up a very specific setting. Beautiful suits, bias-cut dresses, American in Paris taxi horns, giants of Modernism simply walking the streets just like anybody else, and René Clair Gallic breeziness. The soundtrack of all this was Les Six and le jazz hot, the latter of which centered on the Quintette du Hot Club de France, featuring gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli, two names that have passed into jazz legend. Reinhardt was the first European jazzman American musicians respected as a master. He toured with Ellington and recorded with Coleman Hawkins. Armstrong and Gillespie, among others, sat in with the Quintette.

It wasn't a forgone conclusion. Le jazz hot differs significantly from American hot jazz and swing. The rhythm doesn't tap quite the same, for one thing -- more on-the-beat rather than the usual slightly behind. The harmonies and voicings owed much to French cabaret and chanson. Reinhardt, however, played with great rhythmic freedom, an American sense of time, one reason why he fit in so well with his U. S. colleagues.

Mehling and Price, at any rate, have allowed this era to seep into their bones (a retro dandyism wafts through the group photographs). They follow the legend of Django with all the intensity of stalkers. They invent what they call "backstory" and I call "what-ifs." What if Django had heard Debussy or Jelly Roll Morton? What if Villa-Lobos had heard Django (he very well could have, as a matter of fact)? What if Eleanor Roosevelt could fly, as the old Saturday Night Live bit had it? However, speculating causes no harm and leads to some imaginative programming and arrangements.

The group (lead guitar, violin, two rhythm guitars, and string bass) plays pretty tightly. Mehling is no Reinhardt (who is?), but he does well. I actually prefer Evan Price to Grappelli (never one of my favorites, too refined; as jazz violin greats go, I swing more with Ray Nance and Joe Venuti). Guest Jeffrey Kahane might as well not be there at all, he does so little and nothing that a competent pro couldn't handle. On the other hand, the Aeros Quintet adds a reeds and horn section to some of the tracks and fits itself into the chamber spirit of the enterprise. I liked the CD very much, mainly because I hope some of its elegance rubs off on me.


S.G.S. (February 2010)