Crazy Rhythm, 2 CDs plus booklet (Iris Music 3001 864, 2003)
I’ve always been fascinated with musical prowess of guitarist Django Reinhardt. Normally, I wouldn’t consider putting a Reinhardt review on a world music site, his music is more aptly placed on a jazz site, but in doing some research after receiving a compilation from French label, Iris Music, I realized the origins of my fascination. That tight, neat guitar work that marked him as truly gifted was based upon his gypsy heritage.
Crazy Rhythm is a two-CD set with 48 tracks that will knock your socks off. With the likes of Stephane Grappelli, Coleman Hawkins, Dicky Wells, Benny Carter and Freddy Taylor playing and singing along makes it downright delightful.
Reinhardt was born in a gypsy camp in Belgium in 1910 and eventually ended up with his mother’s family in a makeshift camp in Paris. The tribe was known as the Manouches or French Gypsies. Django started out his young life playing violin and guitar with a gypsy troupe, and later touring dancehalls playing popular music. He was 18 when a fire raced through a caravan he was in, severely injuring a leg and destroying some of the use of the fingers on his left hand.
Django found himself forced to give up the violin. Being a self-taught musician, Reinhardt didn’t give up on the guitar and taught himself a new technique in fretwork for the frozen fingers on his left hand. Soon, Django turned from gypsy song and popular dance band music for the latest trend – jazz – and in 1934 The Quintet of the Hot Club was founded.
Crazy Rhythm features Django with The Quintet of the Hot Club, Coleman Hawkins & His All-Star Jam Band and Dick Wells & His Orchestra. The compilation contains such classics as “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” “After You’ve Gone,” “Georgia On My Mind” and “Solitude.” I have to admit that more than once I felt like I was trapped in Woody Allen movie. But pieces like “Miss Annabelle Lee” and “Lady Be Good” prove that Django never lost that bit of gypsy soul.
With Stephane Grappelli’s violin singing sweetly on “In a Sentimental Mood” you can guess that Django and Stephane had a musical relationship that doesn’t come along very often. “Improvisation” is a marvel, especially if you’re reminded that Django was self-taught and lacked complete use of his fingers. The most amazing aspect is that all the recordings took place in between 1936 and 1939, proving that there are those capable of quantity and quality.
Django Reinhardt fans, Stephane Grapelli fans and fans of the early years of jazz are sure to enjoy this compilation. As an added bonus, the accompanying booklet, with both French and English translations, contains some interesting histories, observations and stories. The booklet also has some fabulous photographs of Django. Crazy Rhythm is a compilation that possesses a delightful opportunity for devoted Django fans to infect newer listeners.