Considering that Django Reinhardt recorded prolifically in the quarter-century between 1928 and 1953, it might a bit presumptuous to title this collection The Essential Django Reinhardt. For this two-CD, 36-track anthology is drawn entirely from recordings made in Rome in 1949 and 1950. That's a relatively narrow time frame of work from a musician acknowledged as one of the masters of jazz guitar, and indeed one of the most influential guitarists of all time. It's fair enough to concede that this certainly comprises some of the essential recordings he laid down, however, and that listened to with or without comparison to his entire oeuvre, they're very good. About two-thirds of them were cut in January and February 1949 as part of the quintet also featuring his famed collaborator Stéphane Grappelli on violin. The others were made in April and May of 1950 as part of an entirely different, violin-less quintet, André Ekyan playing alto sax and clarinet, two instruments not heard on the 1949 tracks. Regardless of the context, Reinhardt's playing is excellent and the bands sympathetic, the guitarist showing himself capable of adapting to changing times in jazz with arrangements that swing, but in a more modern way than his earlier efforts. A good number of his own compositions (some written with Grappelli) are included, along with some popular standards and jazz classics by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and Fats Waller. Some material goes beyond these boundaries, such as a "Russian Songs Medley," an improvisation on a Tchaikovsky piece, and W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues." Reinhardt actually cut about three times as much as material from these sessions, but for those who just want a manageable slice of quality work from the period, it's a fine compilation. This reissue, incidentally, was originally produced in 1983, and previously released as The Indispensable Django Reinhardt (1949-1950).
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AllMusic Review by Richie Unterberger
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2