I was lucky enough to see Bireli Lagrene when he was a teenager. I was a student in London at the time and treked across the city to the backroom of a pub in Putney where I heard the most amazing guitar playing I had ever listened to. Since then I haven’t had a chance to see Bireli again, he was supposed to tour the UK a couple of years ago but had to cancel due to an illness. So I looked for the next best thing and found a couple of DVDs of recent concerts:
Live in Paris – this is a DVD of a concert at a jazz club in Paris featuring Bireli’s current quartet, the one on the Move CD with Franck Wolf on saxophones, Hono Winterstein (my current rhythm guitar hero) and Diego Imbert on double bass. The concert starts with Bireli on acoustic guitar and the quartet is really cooking, the music is great and there is some jaw-dropping guitar playing especially on the (very) up-tempo version of Cherokee. The sound quality on the DVD is very good and the filming is great without too much rapid cutting between different views. Later in the concert Bireli picks up his electric guitar and I have to confess that I don’t like the sound of standard electric jazz guitar. The flat wound strings and the strong mid-range bias of the sound make it all sound muddy to me and I miss the sparkling upper harmonics that sing out from the acoustic guitar. I wouldn’t pick ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ as an encore number either but that’s just a question of taste. The first half of the DVD is fabulous and easily justifies the purchase.
Bireli Lagrene and Friends – this is a DVD at the Vienne jazz festival and was recorded a couple of years before the Live In Paris disc. The band is largely the original Gypsy Project line-up with the great Florin Niculescu on violin, Homo Winterstein and Thomas Dutronc on rhythm guitars and Diego Imbert on double bass. The first half of the concert is the quintet playing many of the tunes on the Gypsy Project and Gypsy Project and Friends CDs. The live situation seems to spur them on and they are more adventurous in thier soling than on the CDs. The second half of the concert features virtually all the best gypsy jazz guitarists in the world including Angelo Debarre, Stochelo Rosenberg, Tchavolo Schmitt, etc. Usually such guitar fests become a bit much but here they do play well and are disciplined about their soloing. As a bonus there is also footage of Bireli as a young teenager at the Montreux Jazz Festival.