Django Reinhardt

An Introduction to the Guitar Genius: The Best Recordings 1936-1953, Vol. 1

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Norway’s Hot Club label is dedicated to the hot jazz era from the 1930s through the mid-'50s. This single-disc set of Django Reinhardt's recordings with his killer band the Hot Club of France claims to be the first volume in his best recordings between 1936 and 1953. For starters, that claim is highly debatable. If planning multiple volumes in a series, why not pick the best tracks from one decade at a time and issue them that way? Secondly, since Reinhardt and his bandmates -- who included, of course, Stéphane Grappelli in the beginning -- cut so many fine sides, simply picking the best-known doesn’t necessarily signify the best in terms of quality. Complaints in advertising aside, there is no doubt that what is here is solid from top to bottom, beginning with the signature reading of “Minor Swing” that offers not only a glimpse, but the entire picture of Reinhardt’s genius in one swinging cut. The version of W.C. Handy's “St. Louis Blues” offers great evidence that Reinhardt in particular and this group in general need not be burning down the house tempo-wise in order to showcase their incredible ability to swing. Reinhardt’s solo is mind-bending to be sure, but it’s the group interplay that is most enlightening. The same can be said for “After You’ve Gone,” with Grappelli engaging Reinhardt in a call-and-response set of solos that is utterly delightfully. The later tracks on this set, such as "Nuits de Saint-Germain-des-Près," feature Reinhardt in a big-band setting playing electric guitar, where he employs techniques of dissonance and distortion to get his ideas across inside the larger ensemble and it works beautifully. That said, it is in the smaller-group settings that the listener will no doubt derive the greatest pleasure. The sound quality ranges from good to near excellent, which is impressive considering the source tapes for much of this material.

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