Stéphane Grappelli ‘Django’ (American Jazz Classics) 4/5

French violinist Stéphane Grappelli personifies a certain type of classic era jazz and his collaborations with gypsy jazz guitar virtuoso Django Reinhardt are among the zenith of jazz music recorded during the 1930s and 1940s right through to Reinhardt’s early death in 1953. It should come as little surprise, then, that Grappelli should wish to pay homage to that enduring rapport. By the 1950s Grappelli’s swing take on jazz had become viewed as somewhat passé by the new vanguard of French jazz musicians who were heavily influenced by the be-bop revolution occurring across the Atlantic. However, this album marked a turning point in Grappelli’s career and something of a return not only to form, but also to more positive critical favour. It was recorded in Paris and featured some of the top musicians of the day including French bassist Guy Pederson, Swiss drummer Daniel Humair and guitarist Pierre Cavalli. Several of the collaborative compositions that Grappelli and Reinhardt wrote are featured in newly updated versions here and these include the timeless classics such as ‘Minor swing’, ‘Nuages’ and ‘Daphné’. The John Lewis composition, and an obvious tribute, ‘Django’, that the Modern Jazz Quartet performed on numerous occasions fits neatly into the existing repertoire and there is equally the inclusion of a then rising American songbook standard in ‘Makin’ whoopee’. Perhaps the surprise addition is in fact that of Sonny Rollins’ ‘Pent up house’ which just goes to show that Grappelli could be equally receptive to the then modernists. There are no less than nine bonus cuts that date vary in date between 1947 and 1961. For those that may still be unfamiliar with the contribution of Stéphane Grappelli to the world of music, as well as the fabulous duets with Reinhardt, Grappelli also played an important educational role during the 1970s when a then teenage Nigel Kennedy was taught by the virtuoso player how to master the violin. By the 1970s the music that Grappelli and Reinhardt helped to pioneer was now part of French musical folklore and this was illustrated by the their music serving as the soundtrack backdrop to Louis Malle’s film on the occupation period in France, ‘Lacombe Lucien’. Stéphane Grappelli would return to this basic repertoire on countless occasions, but none have sounded fresher than those contained on ‘Django’. Tim Stenhouse

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