Sorry I haven’t been posting on this blog lately. I have now transfered all the posts from here to a new WordPress blog which is also our band’s website www.djangoism.co.uk – I hope you will find some more material of interest there
This is the latest CD from Angelo Debarre and Ludovic Beier which was released in October 2006. You will probably have read my reviews of their previous studio CDs Entre Amis and Come Into My Swing and know how excellent those are. This one continues that very high standard and perhaps even raises it. many of the tunes are more arranged than on the previous CDs with some very inventive twists to familiar tunes. The CD leaps into life with ‘Caravan’ taken at a cracking pace. Less familiar Django tunes, such as Rue Vingt-Six and Hungaria, get outings and there is a version of Donna Lee taken at a speed approaching that of light. All the playing is top notch but there is a passage in Ludovic Beier’s solo on Django’s Tiger which I play over and over again trying to convince myself it’s true – it sounds as though the accordian has taken off by itself and everyone else is tryng to catch up yet it is also completely musical. My only slight reservation is that Angelo Debarre is listed as playing all guitars (except for one track where his youngest son plays rhythm guitar) which means there must be a fair amount of multi-tracking in the studio, something I don’t feel is right for this type of music, but if I hadn’t read the sleeve notes I don’t think I would have noticed.
How often do you look closely at how you are playing gypsy jazz guitar? Whenever I learn a new guitar technique I look very closely to see that I have got it right before I start regular practice, because regular practice programmes in the technique – bad technique gets programmed in just as easily as good. Gypsy jazz guitar has a number of fundamental techniques which have to be programmed in absolutely correctly otherwise huge problems emerge later when you try to use them at fast tempos or for a whole gig. The plectrum rest stroke (of which more soon) and the loose wrist (not arm) action for rhythm guitar are quite difficult to learn intially and there is considerable scope for error. Sometimes I play in front of a large mirror to check my technique but recently I have been using a video camera which is more useful because you can look at the replayed images with full concentration. I mounted the camera on a tripod and turned the viewing screen round so it was facing me, it was easy to set up and use.
I learnt a lot from looking at a few minutes of clips – I still move my forearm more than I should when playing rhythm guitar but this only happens at high tempos, I angle my plectrum correctly for rest strokes on the upper strings but don’t have enough angle on the lower strings (which is a counterintuitive finding) – all things that I can easily correct before I do more practice but which I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed. I recommend a session of video feedback every couple of months to check for creeping bad habits – but I won’t be posting mine on YouTube!
This CD chronologically came before Entre Amis but I heard it later. Usually a review of ‘more of the same’ might be thought damning but here it is the highest of praise because it means that it is a CD of some of the best gypsy jazz guitar and accordeon playing around. Once again it is a simple line up of lead guitar, accordeon, rhythm guitar and double bass but the playing is anything but simple. There is a good mixture of Django standards and original compositions, the latter being so good that there is no noticeable difference as you listen though the tracks. Some highlights for me were What is This Thing Called Love (with the bebop head Hothouse tagged on the end) and a very spritely rendition of Stomping at Decca. Highly recommended.
A CD with Angelo Debarre and Tchavolo Schmitt on it is never going to be bad but listening to this I fell that someone, either the producer or the guitarists could have made a bit more effort. The tunes are all either very popular Django tunes (Minor Swing, Nuages) or well-worn jazz standards (It Had to Be You, All of Me) and they haven’t been arranged in any interesting ways. What you do get is some good gypsy jazz playing from two great guitarists and there is some interest in comparing Tchavolo’s Alsace style with Angelo’s more sophisticated Parisian style, neither better than the other just different.
This is a very hot gypsy jazz CD. Everyone I have played it to have been completely blown away by the playing and have wondered why they have never heard of Ludovic Beier (most have heard something of Angelo Debarre). The band is a straight gypsy jazz lineup with Angelo Debarre on lead guitar, Ludovic Beier on button accordeon, with two rhythm guitars and a double bass. The tunes are mainly gypsy jazz standards (Douce Ambiance, Yeux Noirs, Troublant Bolero, China Boy) with a few originals including solo tracks by each of the lead musicians. Angelo Debarre is on excellent form as usual playing anything from blisteringly fast swing through to ballads with a beautiful solid tone and clear articulation. I had not heard Ludovic Beier until this CD and he is a complete revelation, I have never heard an accordeon played like this. He too can play at amazing speed but the thing I was most impressed with was his thematic development in solos – taking a little motif and carrying it through a number of different chords changes. When trading 4s and 8s with he appears to be able to reproduce anything that Angelo plays at will. These players are astonishing virtuosos who never lose sight of the fact that they are playing music – very highly recommended
This gypsy jazz CD is a bit different. It features the great guitar playing of John Jorgenson but in an unusual setting – many tracks have full string orchestra arrangements provided by the Nashville Chamber Orchestra. It is nice to listen to music that has been so carefully arranged – a pleasant change from many albums which are close to jam sessions. Whether a string orchestra in the background is to your taste is an entirely personal preference and I suspect that listeners will fall into love it or hate it camps without much in between. On the tracks without the strings John Jorgenson plays nearly everything himself. I had being listening to the title track for months admiring the almost klezmer style clarinet as well as the guitar before I found out from the sleeve notes that John Jorgenson plays that, and the tenor saxophone on that track. He also plays vibes and percussion on other tunes – and most of us struggle to pass muster on just the guitar!