Featuring Didier Lockwood, Bireli Lagrene and Stochelo Rosenberg.
Curated by Tony Gatlif
(Barbican Hall, July 15th 2010, Review by Edward Randell)
The Barbican’s music-and-multimedia celebration of Django Reinhardt’s centenary loses no time placing the guitarist in his cultural context. Against a projected backdrop of red gypsy skirts, a white-clad dancer (Karine Gonzalez) pounds her feet on the stage while a fiddler emerges from the audience, snaking towards the dancer, his playing urging her to more fervent gyrations.
The fiddler, in fact, is Didier Lockwood, one of the world’s leading jazz violinists and the leader of a superb French band here to recreate Django’s distinctive Hot Club sound. When the dance has reached its climax he is joined by the first wave of musicians who, all told, will comprise double bass, clarinet, accordion, second violin and a small army of guitarists – among them Bireli Lagrène and Stochelo Rosenberg.
The band’s performance style may have emulated Django’s unflappable cool, but it was obvious how much they were enjoying themselves as they romped through the likes of ‘Minor Swing’, ‘Daphné’, ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ and ‘I Got Rhythm’. The largest dose of showmanship came from Lockwood. Whether teasing out artificial harmonics or conjuring a steel-pan sound with a wah-wah pedal, he was in total command of his instrument. There was one point, in ‘Nuages’, when I wished he would leave the beautiful melody unembellished – footage of the Hot Club Quintette, played towards the end of the show, reminded us that Reinhardt and Grappelli could be understated as well as virtuosic – but this was a momentary quibble. You could not ask for a better candidate to inherit and develop Grappelli’s legacy.
If you had a phobia of guitars, this gig would have been a nightmare. Over the course of the evening six-string players continued to creep onstage until there were nine in total (all acoustics, with the exception of Jean-Marie Ecay on electric). I make that 54 strings. Lagrène, the standout soloist, was happy to share the limelight, and there was great work from Rosenberg, Sébastien Giniaux and Adrien Moignard (the latter raising chuckles with a mischievous quote from the Star Wars ‘Imperial March’). As with the original Hot Club the absence of a drummer left it to the guitars to drive the bouncy swing, and special mention must go Hono Winterstein, Lagrène’s regular rhythm player and the tireless engine of the group.
The finale, an extended set of variations on Ravel’s ‘Bolero’, featured Ecay playing soupy lead over a ballad reharmonisation before the familiar rhythm kicked in, drummed out by all 8 acoustics on muted strings. Though dramatic, the piece was an odd choice for the closer, having no special connection with Django beyond the gypsy influence – but then Reinhardt’s Manouche roots were the concert’s central focus. Gonzalez’s hoofing and traditional singing from Nomi were each featured on several tunes, while the projected film backdrop, made and mixed live by Tony Gatlif, depicted scenes from Romany community life. This is a constant in Gatlif’s work, so it was to be expected that as the concert’s curator he would emphasize it over, say, the influence of Reinhardt’s spiritual ‘brother’ Louis Armstrong.
If the world-music exoticism was laid on a little thickly, the film provided a visually varied accompaniment, helping transport the audience back to the early 20th century. But perhaps the most striking aspect of ‘Django Drom’ was how well this music has aged. The Hot Club sound still feels fresh and immediate, its infectious energy likely to keep the toes tapping for at least another 100 years.
Video above from a performance in Lyon