Friday, July 26, 2013

Django Festival All Stars Live at Birdland and More

The Django Festival Allstars, purveyors of Gypsy jazz in vein of the legendary Django Reinhardt, have become frequent visitors to the States, including regular runs in New York City. Led by guitarist Dorado Schmitt and accordionist (Ludovic Beier) with Franko Mehrstein on rhythm guitar (with Dorado’s sons Samson and Branson also becoming regulars), their performances at venues such as Birdland and the Kennedy Center are to full houses. This writer was fortunate to see them a couple years ago at the Kennedy Center for an exhilarating evening full of virtuosity, passion and heart, and will be there when they return in this fall. 

While not part of the Allstars when I saw them, they also include violinist Pierre Blanchard. The latest recording is Live at Birdland & More, (Three’s A Crowd Records) reflecting that it includes some live performances from NYC’s Birdland club as well as some Paris studio recordings that includes guest appearances by saxophonist Anat Cohen and cellist Jisoo OK. This CD is the first time that members of the Schmitt family dynasty performing together have been recorded for North American release.

There are plenty of pleasures to be heard here starting with the traditional Gitan Swing which provides Dorado a chance to dazzle with astonishing technique along with Beier’s similarly dazzling accordion playing on this hot jazz performance. Dorado switches to violin for a lovely original For Pierre, that is dedicated to Blanchard and displays Dorado’s warm style. Blanchard is featured on his own original Balkanic Dance, with evocation of Indian solo violin and Balkan folk dances that morphs to a driving gypsy swing performance with Beier’s accordion complementing Blanchard’s fiery playing. Anat Cohen guests on soprano saxophone on what is perhaps Django Reinhardt’s most famous composition Nuages, with some lovely and very warm playing in her own style. 

Another Blanchard original, Valse En Exil, is a lovely piece of romanticism with Samson Schmitt exhibiting a precise technique in his guitar solo while Dorado’s El Dorado has a Brazilian flavoring with delightful interplay between Beier and Dorado. On Reinhardt’s Manor De Mes Reves, Beier is heard on the accordina (a mouth accordion) then lends a wistful quality. The marvelous Out of Nowhere, displays the lovely gliding violin of Blanchard and Dorado’s cleanly, articulated playing set against a simple rhythm on this standard. There are moments of faux-Middle East sounds (think of Juan Tizol’s Caravan) on Beier’s vibrant Camping Car with fiery solos from Blanchard and him. Dorado is again featured on violin, on his own Song For Ettore, exhibiting a strong romanticism in his playing while his son, Amati is featured on lead guitar. Son Bronson contributed Bronson’s Song, with fleet and imaginative playing suggesting some influence from Grant Green. Them Their Eyes, perhaps familiar from Billie Holiday is a tour de force for Samson, Beier and Blanchard, who also shine on Dorado’s Melissa

Bossa Dorado closes this lively and enchanting recording with Dorado taking the lead against the rhythm guitars of Samson and Mehrstein with Jisoo Ok providing a different musical tone with her charming cello playing. This is a spirited close to a recording of virtuosity and passion that is full of charm as well as exhilaration. This was produced by Pat Philips and Ettore Stratta, who are founders and producers of the regular Django Reinhardt New York Festival which is in midst of its 14th year in celebrating the legacy of Django Reinhardt and the Gypsy jazz tradition, which this release helps document.

I received by review copy from a publicist.  Here is a clip of Dorado Schmitt and the Django Festival Allstars performing How High The Moon.

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