|Django Reinhardt was a phenomenon of 20th Century music, a gypsy boy who lost the use of two left-hand fingers in a caravan fire but went on to become the greatest guitar player in the world. Reinhardt's life held a surfeit of event, anecdote and music and his story has been told many times, but perhaps never more meaningfully than through the work of his true artistic heir, Bireli Lagrene.
Much attention has been given to the prodigious nature of Lagrene's early career. A gypsy boy himself, as an 11-year-old he released Routes to Django, a virtuoso interpretation of Reinhardt's signature pieces.
An increasingly albatross-like rep as a very particular kind of child star may well have been the spur that drove Lagrene toward other forms of jazz in subsequent years, as much as natural inclinations to explore and develop as a musician per se. But Djangology was never too far from his fingertips. While some people live in legends, other have legends live in them.
Acknowledging Lagrene's place among the latter, it's a delight to witness this return to his original metier on an uplifting new collection of Reinhardt standards and choice Gallic swing. The stylistic template of Reinhardt's Hot Club Quintet was so tightly constructed as to be essentially unalterable, and its multiple guitars-plus-violin configuration supplies the framework here. Lagrene asserts his individuality within it with lead lines and improvisations of the utmost piquancy and sweetness, spraying supernaturally fast runs across full-blooded readings of his mentor's "Minor Swing" and "Djangology". But it's on bluer cuts like "Ou Est-tu Mon Amour" that the depths of his tenderness are revealed, feather-edged single-note statements rising and falling in alternating breaths of heartbreak and resignation.
For all that, the overriding group atmosphere is of spontaneity and bonhomie, the only inconsistent note being Henri Salvador's vocal on "Envie De Toi", one drip of honey too many in some ears, perhaps.
The sound of gypsy jazz has been co-opted by so much toothpaste and so many Awaydays that it's possible to forget that it's real Rusticana we're listening to here - passionate, bucolic music made by extraordinary players. And if one may find Bireli Lagrene a little too close to Django himself to be appreciable in his own right, we offer: it may be Reinhardt music, but it's heart music just the same.