Stéphane Grappelli

Live 1992

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Stéphane Grappelli was still golden in his later years, and the proof is contained on this delightful concert performance, documented in the spring of 1992 at La Salle De Spectacles in Colombes, France. Teamed with twin electric or acoustic guitarists Marc Fosset and Philip Catherine alongside the virtuoso bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Grappelli has a group that can easily inspire him to play his best. The subtle differences between Fosset and Catherine are heard though the stereo separation in the production values, while Pedersen is sheer genius, up in the mix, and on fire with every note or chord. It would be inappropriate to roundly criticize any aspect of Grappelli's work, considering his genius, far advanced harmonics, unique technical approach, and heartfelt passion he always brought to his music. Suffice it to say that this was not even close to being a bad night, or that he phoned in this performance. Starting with the all-time classic "Minor Swing" that he made famous with Django Reinhardt, the quartet jumps into the warm waters of this one, with Pederson dominating the rhythmic pulse. There's nothing trivial or marginal about this great jazz standard. You hear the drawn out notes and aching legato sound of the violin master on Catherine's "Galerie Des Princes" with a plucked second chorus from the others in a nice two-beat frame. Then the foursome tones down way below the surface for a slight traipse through purple flowers on "Ballade" and the darkly harmonic, generally sad, occasionally sped up "Tears" before ramping back up on "Blues for Django & Stephane," with Pedersen's slip-sliding basslines. A thin version of "Stella by Starlight" trims back Grappelli for probing and subtle inferences between the guitars and bass. As much a brilliant performer as Grappelli is, the artistry of Pedersen, Fosset, and Catherine cannot be denied -- they truly belong on this stage as much as when they lead their own bands. The final three tracks all relate to each other beyond the Gershwin references. "Sweet Chorus" is a simple, laid-back, easygoing waltz referencing the chord changes to "Watch What Happens" as well as foreshadowing the following tune, "Oh, Lady Be Good," a hot swinging crowd pleaser where Grappelli cuts loose. A medley of "Someone to Watch Over Me/I Got Rhythm" goes from languid to peppy at the snap of a finger. When surrounded with talent equal to his own, it's hard to fault Grappelli on any level. This is one of his more worthwhile recordings -- in live performance or the studio -- during the last decade of his beautiful life.

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