[Dixielandjazz] Django's Spirit Lives On.

Steve Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sat Nov 10 08:02:03 PST 2007

There is still time for those in NYC to see/hear this. Note the European
musicians who are on the scene at Birdland, including Django's grandson.
Also note the broad scope of the program . . . Django updated?

Steve Barbone

Releasing Django¹s Spirit, With No Brakes Applied

NY TIMES - NATE CHINEN - November 9, 2007

There was a time, not long ago, when the Django Reinhardt Festival felt
disarmingly like a séance. The spirit of that incomparable Gypsy guitarist
was summoned, fearlessly and flagrantly, by a pack of his stylistic heirs.
Personalities were celebrated but constrained among the gathered faithful,
who strove toward an emulative ideal.

That hasn¹t all changed, exactly. But in its eighth annual incarnation at
Birdland, the tribute is sounding noticeably less single-minded. On
Wednesday night strict homage took a backseat to some looser pursuits, like
buoyant rhythm, blinding technique and alert interplay. At times there was
only the faintest whiff of Reinhardt¹s bottled magic.

Whether you call this progress or corruption, it made for solid
entertainment. Pat Philips and Ettore Stratta, the festival¹s producers, and
Brian Torff, its musical director and house bassist, have cultivated a
stable of dynamic Europeans with roots in Gypsy swing. And their labor of
love has evolved into a brand. There are DVD and album releases of the
festival, which set up shop this week on the heels of a cross-country
concert tour. 

Dorado Schmitt, a veteran guitarist with the roguish charisma and
pencil-thin mustache required of any French Gypsy paragon, was the show¹s
inexorable star. Emerging in a tuxedo with rhinestone trim, he first played
a sentimental new original on violin, in dedication to Mr. Stratta. Then he
switched to his primary instrument for ³Coquette,² which served as a feature
for the exceptionally gifted violinist Florin Niculescu.

Mr. Schmitt has the springy phrasing and effusive flow of a Djangoloist;
he¹s clearly born to the style. But he projected a lot of himself too, with
some insistence. The set included a few more of his songs, among them
³Souvenir,² a showcase for the accordionist Ludovic Beier. Then there was
the matter of amplification: Mr. Schmitt¹s guitar was needlessly loud,
almost to the point of blotting out everything else.

The other guitarists on hand were less interested in volume than in
velocity. Samson Schmitt embroidered one of his father¹s best tunes, ³Bossa
Dorado,² with a breathless torrent of arpeggios. An American-born Reinhardt
specialist who calls himself Kruno (short for Krunoslav Spisic) soloed with
just as much propulsive intensity, though a bit less harmonic acumen.

And David Reinhardt ‹ Django¹s grandson, still in his early 20s and paying
his first visit to the United States ‹ imbued his fretboard flurries with a
sort of uncertain wariness. His style had little to do with the conventions
of Gypsy swing; he sounded more in line with the jazz guitar tradition as
set forth by Americans like Charlie Christian. He isn¹t quite ready to be
sharing a stage with either Schmitt, but he certainly has a future.

Given the festival¹s exuberant overload of digital dexterity ‹ even Mr.
Beier, fingers flying on his button accordion, compounded this feeling ‹ it
was refreshing when a harmonica specialist, Howard Levy, appeared near the
set¹s close. He was meeting the other musicians for the first time, but he
plunged right in, with the appropriate dash of brio.

The Django Reinhardt Festival continues through Sunday at Birdland, 315 West
44th Street, Clinton, (212) 581-3080, birdlandjazz.com.

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