Multi-instrumentalist Joe Craven has been an important asset to the David Grisman Quintet since joining the mandolin great in 1989, playing various roles on violin, mandolin and percussion. But Craven's solo CDs are an even better opportunity for him to display his talents as an arranger and player, as well as overdubbing a number of different instruments. This session finds him interpreting the music of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli (mostly from their days together co-leading the Quintet of the Hot Club of France) with a Latin flavor, though he alters the instrumentation for each track to fit styles heard in several Latin American countries. Craven's mandola is the lead instrument (backed by his various overdubbed instruments), though he also takes a hot violin solo, in the Puerto Rican plena arrangement of "Minor Swing," accented by Rick Montgomery's steel drum and Sam Bevan's bass. His interpretation of Django's timeless ballad "Nuages" is set to the rhythmic Cuban danzon style, featuring the leader on multiple violins, along with fellow Grisman sideman Matt Eakle on flute. Percussion comes to the forefront in "Douce Ambiance," set in the Haitian Ibo tradition. Craven's mandola is complemented by Montgomery's kalimba (a thumb piano) in a strutting setting that would get any parade audience dancing along. "Anouman" is an unjustly obscure ballad written by Django Reinhardt not long before his death; Craven's soulful violin conveys a sense of mourning in the Cuban bolero arrangement, with lush piano by John R. Burr, Eakle's warm bass flute and the leader providing percussion on multiple instruments. "Swing 39" is another masterpiece, transformed into a Spanish nuevo flamenco, with the assistance of yet another Grisman sideman, guitarist Enrique Coria. The leader mixes his violin, oudolin (possibly a stepping stone between the ancient oud and the modern mandolin, though it sounds closer to an oud) and percussion in a superb performance. "Tears" is cast as an exotic tango, with bandoneon player Seth Asarnow (who doubles on bass), guitarist Coria, along with Craven's lyrical violin in a performance worthy of comparison to the tangos of the late legendary bandoneon player Astor Piazzolla. While it would be impossible for Joe Craven to play most of these arrangements in a concert setting, there's nothing in the least bit mechanical in any of these selections. It is rare enough to find an all-around musician with such talent, but it is his refreshing, innovative approach to each of the selections associated with Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli which help to make this a release that is truly captivating from start to finish.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden