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Belleville: Original Recordings 1940-1942

Naxos 8.120822



1. Petit Lili
2. Ninouche
3. Hungaria
4. De nulle part (Out of Nowhere)
5. Dinette (Dinah)
6. Crepuscule
7. Swing 42
8. Premiere idée d’Eddie
9. Nympheas
10. Feerie
11. Belleville
12. Lentement, Mademoiselle
13. Vous et moi
14. Distraction
15. Blues en mineur
16. Studio 24
17. Place de Brouckere
18. Django Rag
19. Mixture
20. Chez moi à six heures

Django Reinhardt - Guitar, bowed bass, violin
Pierre Allier, Alme Barelli, Alex Carturegli, Severin Luino, Maurice Giegas, Janot Morales, Luc Devroye, Paul d’Houdi, George Clais, Raymond Chantrain - Trumpets
Maurice Gladieu, Pierre Remy, Nic Frerar, Lou Melon, Jean Damm, Sus van Camp, Jean Douillez - Trombones
Hubert Hostaing - Clarinet, alto & tenor sax
Maurice Cizeron - Alto sax & flute
Bobby Naret, Lou Logist - Alto sax & clarinet
Charles Lisse, Christian Wagner, Jo Magis, Louis Billen - Alto sax
Noel Chiboust, Victor Ingeveldt, Benny Paulwels, Fud Candrix, Jack Demany, Arthur Saquet - Tenor sax
Ivon de Bie, Paul Collot, John Ouwerckx - Piano
Eugene Vees, Charles Dolne, Van der Jeught - Guitar
Emmanuel Soudieux, Tur Peeters - Bass
Pierre Fouad, Andre Jourdan, Joe Aerts - Drums

Django Reinhardt stands as the giant of Continental Jazz, therefore the fact that Naxos Jazz has released its 10th volume of his compiled recordings should come as no surprise. This edition, with original recording dates from December 1940 through May 1942, includes some of his work with The Quintette du Hot Club de France among others, and also shows him venturing away from his guitar to play violin on a few selections. Interestingly enough, there are also a handful of selections where Django himself is not even the featured player. All in all, this disc contains a solid sampling of Django’s work from the early ‘40s. What’s even more impressive is that the music was all recorded in the shadow of the Nazis and their occupation of France. There is such joy and freedom to the playing that it is easy to forget that this was not music made in the safety of America’s shores where recording studios were not in literal danger of being bombed.  

The disc begins with Django performing with Pierre Allier’s sextet. The works are Allier originals, and not well known standards. The pieces are solid enough, with Django stealing the show on Petit Lili and with Allier taking the lead on both charts. The next 2 pieces also relegate Django to the rhythm section with Andre Ekyan taking the lead. As a player, Ekyan is certainly a solid professional capable of putting on a show. The two pieces are not really what one would expect of a CD that has Django Reinhardt’s name on the cover. He is, after all, not a bass player like Ron Carter. The reason for the disc is to highlight Django as a player, and though he was more than capable of leading a great rhythm section, these two pieces are easily discarded. 

Starting with Dinette (Dinah) the CD finally falls into stride. Dinette is a Django original based on the rhythm changes to Dinah where Crepuscle is a true original. In both cases Django gives the lead at the top to the clarinet but quickly takes over the tune as soon as the head is stated, and at this point on the disc Django’s technical and melodic prowess on the acoustic guitar become evident. He easily tosses off riffs that foreshadow the great blues and jazz artists of the 1950s and 60s, inventing them on the fly. And on Swing 42 Django finally takes the lead on the head.  

As suddenly as his guitar work manifests itself, the compilers again deemphasize it. For the next piece, Premiere idée d’Eddie features 3 horn solos and Reinhardt playing a bowed solo on bass. The solo is fine, if a bit out of tune at times. It serves mostly to remind the listener just how versatile and influential Django was. Following this piece Django originals Nypheas and Feerie are put on display. The works are big band numbers featuring a variety of horn players before the guitar is allowed to quit playing downbeat chords and is put into the spotlight. Feerie is certainly the more fun of the two pieces harkening to an early 30s jump dance number. The tempos get kicked up a notch or two and each section shows how tight they can be. When the guitar solo kicks in about a minute into the piece it quickly becomes impossible to not want to (at least) tap one’s feet. The next work is the standard Belleville that was chosen as the title track for this disc. It is easy to understand why. The piece is joyful and fun and Django is in top form technically, even employing harmonic techniques more familiar to listeners of 1970s and 1980s hair metal. When the solos start utilizing the techniques in the middle of the chart for Django to accompany himself, one really does begin to realize how ahead of his time Reinhardt really was. Following this immediately is another somewhat sombre guitar feature, Lentement, Mademoiselle that gives plenty of room for the quintet to play off of each other, to great effectiveness. 

Once the compilers have allowed us to finally grow into a comfort zone, letting us hear the virtuosic playing of Django’s guitar, they decide to again display his versatility. Two of the next four works feature Django playing duets with pianist Ivon de Bie, but with Django playing violin with surprising effectiveness. In the middle of each tune Django will take a guitar solo as well. The interplay with de Bie on all four pieces (Vous et moi, Blues en mineur, Distraction, and Studio 24) is organic and joyful. These are among the highlights of the compilation with the solo on Vous et moi being a particular stand-out moment for the entire disc. 

Following this are more big band arrangements with Django taking the lead on Place de Brouckere and Mixture. It is again notable just how strong his playing against the thick sound tapestries of the big band is. Most guitarists of the era were nearly inaudible, where Django was able to hold the listeners’ attention both with virtuosity and raw volume. On Django Rag (really Tiger Rag with Django taking the clarinet parts), Django plays with such ferocity and prowess that one has to remind oneself that this could not have been overdubbed or enhanced due to the era of recording. The solo work is truly astonishing. The final work, Chez moi a six heures is a Basie inspired riff tune, again giving Django plenty of room to show off. 

The sound fidelity and liner notes are both adequate. Each tune has a complete listing of personnel in the jacket as well as well-written liner notes by Scott Yanow. The fidelity is not that of a modern recording, but it sounds just like an LP produced in 1942 and played for the first time today. There is some noise in the high end but none of the popping and scratching that would be commonplace when listening to well-worn vinyl. The notes do a decent job of framing the music and listing personnel for each individual work.  

As a compilation it is difficult to fault the compilers for wanting to show Django’s versatility. Certainly he would want to be remembered as a player of more than the guitar, considering his virtuosity on other string instruments. What is less understandable is the willingness of the compilers to include works which de-emphasize Django’s playing in the earlier parts of the disc. The overall disc is certainly a good one highlighting much of what made Django one of the most remembered and influential guitar players of the pre-electric guitar era. Indeed, only Robert Johnson and T-Bone Walker could be considered as influential as guitar players before 1950. This may not be the best compilation for a first CD of Django Reinhardt’s if a listener is unfamiliar with him as a player, but it is definitely one that would interest anyone who already is familiar with Django. Certainly this is a disc worth listening. 

Patrick Gary

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