The Django Reinhardt Festival has been a terrific series at Birdland for fans of gypsy swing as heard in this compilation of live sets. Two strong performers, either Angelo Debarre or Dorado Schmitt, play lead guitar, backed by a potent, alternating cast of supporting musicians including clarinetist Ken Peplowski, bassists Jay Leonhart or Jon Burr (the latter an alum of Stéphane Grappelli's band), Grady Tate (on brushes) and accordion player Ludovic Beier , among others. The performances keep the music fresh rather than simply rendering them as museum-piece re-creations. They explore standards from the 1930s and both Django Reinhardt's timeless compositions and lesser-known works with equal enthusiasm to appreciative crowds, who manage to somehow restrain themselves rather than drown out the ends of solos with loud reactions. Schmitt offers a flashy interpretation of "Nuages" and proves to be just as accomplished on violin in a romp through "Stompin' at Decca," while Debarre's lively picking in the delightful treatment of "I Can't Give You Anything but Love" is just as enticing. The final track features electric guitarist Babik Reinhardt (Django's son) playing a more modern-sounding original with electric violinist Florin Niculescu, pianist Pete Malinverni, bassist Jon Burr, and drummer Leroy Williams, so the flavor of this track is more traditional swing versus gypsy swing. The only shortcoming of the CD is tenor saxophonist James Carter, who appears on several songs and has a tendency to showboat too much at times by alternating between a big sound akin to Coleman Hawkins and needless squealing. Yet even Carter's occasional detours into dissonance don't provide that much of a distraction from these swinging live sessions.
AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden