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Django Reinhardt

Diminishing Blackness: The Compositions Of Django Reinhardt

Review by Gary Hill

It's hard to imagine a musical world without the legacy of Django Reinhardt. He has created such a huge, and lasting, influence on many genre. The most obvious is on the world of jazz, where many of his compositions have become "standards."

I would note, though, that he has had a huge effect on music far from jazz, too. Just listen to his guitar playing without hearing his impact on progressive rock guitarists. Then there is heavy metal. For my money, the riffing of Tony Iommi is what created heavy metal. Well, there is a connection to Reinhardt there. Iommi cut the ends off of two of his fingers on his fretting hand in a factory accident. He resigned himself to never playing guitar again. A friend brought a Reinhardt record over and forced Iommi to listen to it. You see, Reinhardt had been through a terrible fire as a young adult and lost most of the use of two of his fingers. Iommi's friend pointed out that if Reinhardt could play that well with just two fingers, then Iommi could certainly do the same. And, the rest is history. 

This new set collects a number of recordings from Reinhardt himself filling two CDs and part of a third. The set is rounded out by others performing music that is connected to Reinhardt, either because he wrote it, or the piece is dedicated to him. If you've never heard this man play, you really need to. I would highly recommend this set as a primer.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2019  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc One
                   
Ultrafox

There is a bouncy kind of old school jazz vibe on display here. I dig the expressive guitar soloing. Reinhardt's virtuosity really shows through on this thing.

Djangology
There is a bouncy kind of world music feeling to this number. Again, Reinhardt's guitar work shines, but that's a given. This is classy stuff for sure. It gets pretty crazed at times.
Oriental Shuffle
This is a playful number that is entertaining. While Reinhardt's guitar shines, as always, you can't ignore the violin either.
Are You in the Mood?

I like how the guitar seems to take what would traditionally seem to be the vocal part on this number. Of course, the instrument shows much more prowess than most people could get from their vocal chords. This is a very old-school styled number.

Sweet Chorus
While this comes across as a pretty standard shuffling kind of number, the guitar soloing is what really makes it shine.
Swing Guitars
There is a cool energetic groove this number. The violin really shines here, and of course, so does the guitar. There is really a bit of a hoe-down vibe to this song.
Tears
I love the world music vibe to this. The cut is packed with a lot of emotion. It has a cool groove, too. There are some intriguing shifts and changes here.
Mystery Pacific
Starting with some mysterious sounding chords, this thing starts speeding up like a train. The guitar really drives that comparison, at times seeming to convey a horn as this thing runs down the track. The violin really drives it all home at points here, too. This is a fast paced and particularly cool number.
Improvisation
This is just what it says it is, a cool guitar improvisation. Reinhardt certainly had a gift, and it really shows.
Parfum
There is a pretty, more sedate vibe to the opening of this, but it builds out from there. In particular there is some killer Spanish guitar playing at the end.
Minor Swing
I dig this quite a lot. It really does have a great swing to it. It's playful and just plain entertaining.
Swingin' with Django
A fast-paced cut, this certainly does swing. It's a powerhouse number designed to get you energized. It's a lot of fun.
My Serenade
As you might expect from the title, this is decidedly mellower. Don't expect it to be restive, though. Reinhardt shows that he can impress just as well in slower ways as he can in faster ones. Besides, he still manages to create some fast pyrotechnics.
Bolero
Here we get a cool interpretation of Ravel's classic piece. I like this quite a bit. It works very well in this format. It turns a bit creepy for a time, feeling a bit like something that would work well in a movie soundtrack.
Daphne
I dig the guitar soloing on this quite a bit. Beyond that, the song only works so well, though.
Appel Direct (Appel Indirect)
I have heard Steve Howe do some things that are similar to parts of this. This cut is dramatic, and quite intriguing.
Improvisation No. 2 (Take 1)
This is another impressive improvisational piece. I guess you could figure that out from the title, though, right?
Swing 39
I dig the tasty groove on this thing. It's another entertaining number.
Stockholm
This is a bouncy number, but it has some pretty freaky instrumental exploration over that backdrop. It's a nice contrast between down-to-Earth and tastefully challenging stuff.
Echoes of Spain
I love the electrified sound on some of this. There is, as you might imagine, plenty of Spanish flavor to this piece of music. This gets quite exploratory.
Naguine
This guitar solo seems a bit freeform. It's quite cool, too.
Rhythm Futur
This fast paced number is dramatic and so cool. It feels like it would have been quite at home in a movie soundtrack, or at least parts of it would. That said, I could even imagine this being released as a track on a Rock in Opposition album.
Swing 41
I dig the old school jazz of this number. It's a classy cut that really works well.
Swing de Paris
I like this one better than the previous number. It's sort of similar, but the arrangement is different, and this has a more heartfelt swing to it. It's old school jazz at its finest.
Dinette
Another classy old school jazz romp, this is energetic and quite cool.
Crepuscule
Coming in much mellower, this works out from there in classy style. There's a bit of a shuffling vibe to the piece.
Swing 42
I love the guitar work on this rocking number. It's a cool cut that is packed full of energy and oozing with style.
Disc Two
                     
Belleville

Guitar kicks things off in style here. They work out from there to an inspired and entertaining jam.

Lentement Mademoiselle
I really dig the classic groove on this thing. It's a great tune and has some particularly inspired guitar work.
Nymphéas
Coming in dramatic and a bit mysterious, this works out to more mainstream jazz textures, but the guitar really gets to shine.
Douce Ambiance
This shuffling, up-tempo jazz piece is quite entertaining.
Manoir de Mes Reves (Castle of My Dreams)
Coming in mellower, slower and a bit tentatively, this works out from there to some tasty sounds. There is some particularly expressive guitar work built into this number.
Blues Clair
There is a bouncing, driving, shuffling kind of groove to this number. It's packed full of energy. I have to think that this kind of sound really influenced early rock and roll.
Fleur D'ennui
I like the mellow world music meets jazz vibe on this thing. It's all class.
Improvisation No. 3 Part 1
This guitar improv has a lot of classical music built into it.
Improvisation No. 3 Part 2
Another potent guitar solo, this is packed full of emotion, but still based on a lot of classical music.
Improvisation No. 6
Expressive and exploratory, we get another potent guitar work out here.
Django's Tiger
I dig the classic jazz meets an almost early rock and roll sound we hear on this number. It's energized and fun.
Del Salle - Take 2

More classy jazz is the order of business here. It's not a big change from a lot of the rest, but when it's this good, it really doesn't need to be.

Swing 48
High energy and inspired, this is another strong tune.
R-Vingt-Six
More classy jazz is on the menu here.
Improvisation 47
Another guitar solo, there is quite a bit of static in this recording.
Fantasie
Classical music and jazz seem to merge on this number. The violin brings a lot to this table.
Minor Blues
The riff on this is so classic. This thing just oozes cool. I absolutely love this thing. In fact, this is actually one of my favorites of all three discs.
Micro (Mike)
This fast paced groove is so tasty.
Nuages
A bit mellower, this is no less dramatic. It's a real powerhouse tune in so many ways. It's another highlight of the set.
Improvisation No. 4
Another solo piece, this is one of the better ones of the bunch.
Webster
More of a playful jazz number, I dig this quite a bit.
Diminishing Blackness

Now, this powerful piece is purely sublime. This is one of the highlights here. It's a more full jazz arrangement, and it's packed with drama and style.

Double Whisky
This one is a lot more playful. It's a fun groove that works quite well.
Impromptu
This jam is frantic and powerful. It features a bit of a drum solo mid-track, but everyone is on the top of their game here. This is another standout piece.
Vamp
Slower moving, this is dramatic and expressive. It's another potent cut.
Fleche D'or (Golden Arrow)
A full jazz treatment, this is scorching hot. It's fast paced, intense and so cool.
Troublant Bolero
This comes in percussive, but works its way out to more of a full jazz treatment from there.
Nuit de Saint Germain-Des-Prés
I love the bass work on this thing, and the whole piece really grooves. This is some killer old school jazz at its best.
Disc Three
                  
Anouman

Piano brings this into being with a slow moving, rather bluesy sound. The cut works out to more of a full arrangement, bringing some lush evocative jazz texture with it.

D.R. Blues
The walking bass line on this is classic, but then again, so is the entire arrangement.
Blues for Ike
This comes in a bit tentatively. It works out from there to a killer groove and really explodes later in the track.
Manoir de Mes Rêves (Castle of My Dreams)
A fairly slow and mellow cut, this is packed full of emotion.
Nuages
Another version of a track from the previous disc, I might like this version better. It's evocative and very cool.
Deccaphonie
I love the vibes on this cut. The whole thing really grooves in style, though. This is a powerhouse cut, and it includes a short drum solo.
Anouman - Henri Crolla
I love this classic jazz arrangement. The cut just oozes class.
Manoir de Mes Rêves - Henri Crolla
Slower moving and quite mellow, this one doesn't work quite as well for me as the previous one did. That said, though, the guitar and piano playing are both impeccable.
Nuages - Henri Crolla
I like this quite a bit, but not nearly as well as I like the two versions we heard previously. It seems a bit bland and soul-less.
Vamp - Barney Wilen
Slow moving and pretty, this is a very mellow number. It is solid, but seems a bit lackluster compared to a lot of the rest of the music here.
Nuages - Barney Wilen
A piano solo opens this and carries it for more than a minute. Then the rest of the instruments join, and we're out into another slow moving and considerably mellow jazz treatment.
Chez Jazquet - Matelo Ferret
Now, this seems more decidedly in the spirit of Reinhardt. It's a playful and energetic guitar based piece.
Montagne Sainte-Genevieve - Matelo Ferret
Here we get another classy guitar solo that does Reinhardt proud.
Gagoug - Matelo Ferret

As you might guess, this is another acoustic guitar solo that really impresses.

Choti - Matelo Ferret
There is a lot of Spanish or Latin guitar built into this one. It's another powerhouse guitar solo.
Nuages - Milt Jackson
Vibes are a big part of the arrangement on this number. It's a pretty and smoothly flowing piece that works well.
Nuages - Sacha Distel
This is an energetic and classy jam.
Django - Modern Jazz Quartet
Mellow and quite pretty, I like this number a lot. There is some killer piano work on this thing, and I like the vibes, too.
Lento (An Elegy to Django Reinhardt) from Malcolm Arnold Guitar Concerto Op. 67 - Julian Bream
This is quite classical in nature. It's also powerful and mysterious. This would definitely work well as part of the soundtrack to a suspense film. At more than 11-and-a-half minutes of music, this is an extensive piece. All that time is put to good use with a lot of varying themes, some of which are especially dramatic.
Gin Gin - Trio Ferret
This guitar showcase is all class.
Django's Castle - Chet Atkins
A smooth jazz jam, this is great stuff. It's mellow and gentle, but also powerful. There are moments where the guitar almost hints at surf music.

 

 
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