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Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
Music Reviews
United States
New York City
New York
New York, NY

Biréli Lagrène Gypsy Jazz Project

by Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 28, 2003
1650 Broadway, Corner of 51st St
New York, NY 10019

About the Author:

Biréli Lagrène Gypsy Jazz Project

Biréli Lagrène, Guitar
Florin Niculescu, Violin
Thomas Dutronc, Guitar
Diego Imbert, Double Bass
Iridium Jazz Club
1650 Broadway, Corner of 51st St, NYC
(See Other Iridium Reviews)

Media Contact: Jim Eigo, Jazz Promo Services

By Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 28, 2003

Jazz Promo Notes (Edited):


When Biréli Lagrène first emerged in 1980 as a 13-year old, who sounded exactly like Django Reinhardt, both gypsies, he was considered a marvel. After a few years and several recordings, Lagrène purposely got away from the Reinhardt influence, playing high-powered rock-oriented fusion and recording with bassist, Jaco Pastorius in 1986. The guitarist has since returned to a quieter form of jazz, playing hard bop versions of standards with hints of his earlier interests in Django and fusion. His latest CD on Dreyfus features the music of Django Reinhardt and he brings his all Parisian-based gypsies to his only NY appearance.

Bireli Lagrene at Iridium
Photo courtesy of Roberta E. Zlokower

When this dynamic Quartet began, in the second set, to play its vibrant, sometimes Gypsy, sometimes Hot Club Swing, a fusion of two guitars, bass, and violin, I thought I had been transported back to last fall's Django Reinhardt Festival (See Django Reinhardt Birdland Festival Reviews). Had we really gone back to 1930's Paris, Florin Niculescu could have been Stephane Grappelli and Biréli Lagrène could have been Django Reinhardt, as they communicated so well together, through their play on rhythms and tone. Perhaps Diego Imbert was emulating Jaco Pastorius, Lagrène's mentor, and perhaps Thomas Dutronc was to be one of Reinhardt's sidemen, for the reliable chords and backup. Regardless, I was instantly impressed with the sound, technicality, and versatility of these four musicians, who played and interplayed with each other in solo, duo, trio, and quartet. In addition, this was my first experience with what seemed to be Gypsy bass, and my first experience with a fusion of classical violin that morphs into a Hot Club Swing violin with the rhythm of a lightning guitar.

I looked for comparisons between this quartet and the music of the Guitar Duo groups recently reviewed, also at Iridium (See Iridium Reviews, Guitar Duo). However, Lagrène's music would be more danceable than that of Bucky Pizzarelli's group, more melodic than Pat Martino's group, and, to refer to another recent review (See John Pizzarelli Trio Review, Birdland), more in tune with the beat of a fast Swing, Savoy, or Jitterbug. Yet, Lagrène inserted a romantic feel, a level of intrinsic passion, with some indistinguishable (to me) Standards, except for Night and Day, and shifting tempos and styles. Imbert was fully there on bass, not background, but total presence. In fact, I could have danced a great Swing step to his bass, had he carried solo, as he plucked out the themes on his strings, hardly ever with a bow.

I loved the way this group really knew each other and could switch leads mid-note, guitar to violin to bass to guitar. They even imitated each other's instruments, as the violin and bass were plucked, and Lagrène's guitar became backup. Swing was not the only inherent dance. I heard a distinct Bossa Nova, sexy, smooth, and warm. Then, they played a Quick Step rhythm, mixing bits of standards, like sound bites, within the vibrant or seamlessly smooth fusion of Swing, Jazz, and Classical, similar to but not akin to the eclectic style of Regina Carter on her jazz violin (See Regina Carter Review, Birdland).

Lagrène's and Niculescu's solos were more than professional, more than powerful, more than poignant. They were a fusion of Spanish Guitar and Jazz (Lagrène) and Classical Violin and Jazz (Niculescu). There was a watershed moment in this rare performance, when Niculescu was playing solo classical violin, and Lagrène quietly entered and smoothly developed a duet around this sophisticated theme. They played another duet, this time a melody from Spain. There were no announcements of songs or works, and I will not venture to accurately identify each piece. Moreover, accuracy and detail are irrelevant here. What is relevant, in this review of fused Jazz, Swing, Classical, and Spanish Guitar, Bass, and Violin, is the evidence of the highest skill and experience, mutually and individually, of these most talented musicians. Another Jazz first occurred at the end of this set, with a standing ovation and encore - a solo by Lagrène, a piece from Spain.

Kudos to Bireli Lagrène and his Gypsy Jazz Project. Kudos to Iridium Jazz Club for this memorable presentation.

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