Tread cautiously when the title of an album starts off with the phrase "the best of." It's not that the music on the album will be lacking, but that the introductory phrase is so subjective, it should make a prospective of the album, at the minimum, a bit wary; it would be somewhat more honest to title such compilations "Some of the Best of..." In any event, this Blue Note album, compiled with the usual knowing liner notes of the eminent Dan Morgenstern, collects Reinhardt sessions from May 1936, when the clouds of World War II were starting to engulf Europe, to March 1948. A survey of Reinhardt's performances over these tumultuous 12 years is an opportunity to see how the great guitar player's style changed and evolved. And evolve it did, but never did it lose its foundation, which was swing. It is at least arguable that no guitar player, including the great Charlie Christian, was as adept in making that instrument move as did Reinhardt. Morgenstern also wisely included many of Reinhardt's compositions on this compilation, reminding us that he was more than a fair-to-middlin' tunesmith. The first cut, with the original Quintet of the Hot Club of France, one of several he shares with his longtime musical comrade-in-arms, Stephane Grappelli, is as infectious a rendition of this warhorse as has been captured on disc, the 1941 Benny Goodman Sextet and 1945 Benny Morton All Stars versions notwithstanding. Moving ahead to 1939, "I'll See You in My Dreams," is somewhat more pensive, but nonetheless Reinhardt still swings. Reinhardt also had the ability to expresses an immense sense of romanticism in his playing. Nowhere is his romantic streak broader as when he and clarinetist Hubert Rostaign put together a lovely version of Reinhardt's "Nuages." And he was a whiz at swinging the blues, as seen on "St. Louis Blues." On this tune, working above the rhythm guitar of Louis Gaste on W.C. Handy's blues psalm, he demonstrates the ability to put across a melody with an infectious toe-tapping rhythm. By the time the late 1940s arrive, Reinhardt is still swinging, as on "Django's Tiger" and "Lady Be Good." There are a couple of sessions of Reinhardt with an orchestra, and while these come off reasonably well, the guitarist was much more at ease in small groups, where he was less constrained. Not only was this the case with the quintet, but with such American jazzers as Rex Stewart and His Feetwarmers on "Montmartre" as well. On the last cut, "To Each His Own Symphony," he is reunited with Stephane Grappelli (this time on piano) in a pensive recapitulation of their off-and-on association. Whether this CD qualifies as The Best of Django Reinhardt is perhaps arguable. What isn't at issue is that the album is an excellent compilation of 18 cuts and 53 minutes of music by one of the most significant European apostles of and influences on American jazz.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Nathan