Django Reinhardt

The Hot Jazz: Le Hot Club De France, Vols. 1-4

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Problem number one: here are four volumes of a box set that tantalizes the jazz lover's appetite with a cover that reads: "Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli Performing With Le Hot Club De France, and Many Others As: Coleman Hawkins, Dicky Wells, Eddie South and Glenn Miller. Four Hours of Hot Jazz From Paris' Greatest Nightclubs." Already sounds fishy but hopeful, doesn't it? Then, there are no liner notes other than a brief, dodgy bio of Django Reinhardt on the inside of each CD's booklet. Thankfully, there is a track listing that credits the composers of each of the selections, but after that it's up to listeners to piece together this "history." No doubt this is a bootleg's bootleg. The recording quality is dodgy even for the time as there are many labels out there that've assembled some of the same material -- if not all of it -- and properly cleaned it up for digital release. Thankfully, some of the material is so telltale it's impossible not to tell who it is: the version here of "Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea" is clearly recorded with Glenn Miller's World War II band, and also featured Dicky Wells, though Grappelli is nowhere present. "Limehouse Blues," the band is most definitely Le Quintette du Hot Club de France with Grappelli on the front line. After "Devil..." we go back to the Grappelli band, with "Solitude" by Duke Ellington, and off we re-run scattering here and there, back and forth across Reinhardt's career before and during the war. The earliest material, such as "The Sheik of Araby" and "My Serenade," is fairly easy to identify from 1939 and 1941, but the various configurations that Reinhardt's bands took on varied so much it's impossible to tell if these recordings were even done at the Hot Club -- I sincerely doubt it. On other discs, we're treated to stellar performances of "Sweet Georgia Brown" -- by both the quintet and the Miller band, and with the exception of five tracks out of 22 that are the quintet with Grappelli (some of the earliest pieces like "Paramount Stomp" and "Oriental Shuffle" are here) -- and they remain the orchestra for the rest of the volume. It's difficult to reconcile the wild playing of Reinhardt to the sterile, tinny, and predictable arrangements of the Miller orchestra. Believe me, it was Reinhardt lending them credibility rather than vice versa. Their arrangements were all the same, making it difficult to tell one up-tempo from another, and the ballads were anything but lyrical, they were more like commercials for saccharine. One of the highlights on volume two is "Daphne" by the quintet: Grappelli's melody line is so fluid it runs like water, and Reinhardt bends notes all over it in counterpoint. Undaunted, Grappelli's indentured lyricism trades fours and then eights with the guitarist until switching it all into another tempo entirely at the bridge. The interplay between them is instinctual and astonishing. Volume three tells two stories and reveals the appearance of Coleman Hawkins -- on exactly two tracks recorded after the war when Grappelli left the band. Most of the tracks here are the deep blues side of the quintet, with Grappelli's lush emotionalism in ballad and blues style creating a mode and mood that Reinhardt would inevitably, with his temperamental style, punch up with arpeggios and long single-note solos. Grappelli in turn -- check out "Blues" -- would relay a counterpoint and double the tempo to force the guitarist to respond with fat chunky chords. The Hawkins band come up with a version of "Georgia Brown" that would suck if it weren't for the Hawkins solo and the muted trumpet solo of Raymond Biette from Paris who toured Europe with Hawkins in 1949. Moving ever forward, the Hawkins appearance is on Rodgers and Hart's "You Took Advantage of Me," with the Hawk flying high in his ballad solo. The rest of the material is either at the end of the Grappelli tenure with the quintet in England or the band after he was gone, which comprises almost all of volume four with a couple of throwbacks to the time with Miller, one with Hawkins and an early side from the quintet with Eddie South called "Fiddle Blues," where Reinhardt and Grappelli turn the tune harmonically inside out with a long bridge made entirely of counterpoint and arpeggiated runs through one another's scales, and shifting to a ragtime blues before returning to the swing-blues that is still faster than a normal 12 bar. Once again, there is plenty of fine music on this collection, much of it preserved in a dodgy, bootleg quality manner though the performances are indeed stellar for the most part -- they could have eliminated the Miller band stuff entirely and included more of the Hawkins sessions and made it a three-CD set, but that's personal prejudice talking. If you are a person who cares about such things, it is difficult without careful comparison and research to know exactly what you are listening to, and the haphazard manner in which this collection is thrown together with the chronology tossed willy nilly over four volumes is ridiculous -- it doesn't help. So in spite of the outrageously great material here -- none of it very rare, but it's nice to see most of it in one place -- it is impossible to recommend this set based on its shoddy presentation, mediocre sound, and complete lack of documentation. If you are looking for a Reinhardt/Grappelli compilation, try the Verve material, or the Mosaic box; they has everything one will need to be introduced to one of the most original bands in the history of recorded jazz.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 3:20
2 3:19
3 2:46
4 2:58
5 3:10
6 2:53
7 3:26
8 3:01
9 2:52
10 3:07
11 3:02
12 2:52
13 3:08
14 2:55
15 3:14
16 2:49
17 2:21
18 3:01
19 2:52
20 2:47
21 3:07
22 2:47

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:43
2 3:10
3 3:23
4 2:29
5 2:41
6 2:50
7 2:50
8 2:49
9 3:04
10 3:04
11 2:45
12 2:45
13 2:58
14 2:50
15 3:19
17 3:06
18 2:42
19 2:41
20 2:23
21 3:05
22 2:37

Track Listing - Disc 3

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:39
2 3:02
3 2:46
4 2:54
5 2:33
6 3:09
7 2:25
8 2:28
9 3:22
10 2:56
11 3:05
12 2:32
13 2:15
14 2:39
15 2:34
16 3:09
17 3:17
18 2:39
19 2:23
20 3:20
21 3:01
22 3:04

Track Listing - Disc 4

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 3:16
2 3:29
3 3:23
4 3:08
5 3:07
6 3:22
7 3:03
8 2:29
9 2:40
10 2:37
11 3:00
12 2:53
13 3:18
14 2:54
15 2:34
16 2:47
17 2:46
18 2:49
19 2:56
20 3:19
21 2:58
22 2:50
blue highlight denotes track pick