Blues & Jazz News for May/June 2005:


LOS ANGELES -- One of Django's disciples, French guitarist Bireli Lagrene, paid tribute to the master in a recent Gypsy Crossings concert at UCLA's Royce Hall. Appearing on a double bill with the Taraf de Haidouk (Band of Honorable Brigands) group, Lagrene played a one-hour set comprised largely of Django's favorite jazz tunes (such as "All of Me" and "Minor Swing"). Since Django played so often (and well) with violinist Stephane Grapelli, Lagrene gave prominence to his group's violinst, Martin Weiss. Together these two fiery, remarkably gifted players (backed by Hono Winterstein on rhythm guitar and Diego Imbert on double bass) showed just how vital and exciting "traditional" jazz can be when it is interpreted by musicians of their caliber.

Lagrene, who came out of a gypsy community in Alsace and was a child prodigy, has honed his jazz chops with the likes of Benny Carter, Benny Goodman and Wes Montgomery, his other spiritual father. He is a sophisticated artist, able to play just about any kind of music (Brazilian, bebop, rock), and he showed his range at UCLA, throwing in licks and references from Eric Clapton, Jaco Pastorius and Gil Evans, to name but a few. But no matter where his explorations and improvisations took him, he always came back to his Django roots--swift, hard-driving, melodic jazz played with much emotion and heart.

Taraf De Haidouks (from Romania) catapulted to fame with its 1992 debut in the French/Gypsy director Tony Gatlif's acclaimed, award-winning film Latcho Drom. The 12-member group is split between young and old musicians, some of whom had, until recently, had never played anything but local markets, weddings and and baptisms. The mixture makes for fascinating contrasts--piercing flute and clarinet solos fighting to be heard over electrified violins and dulcimer. The older singing voices waver and crack a bit, but no matter, because when joined by the modern, rock-oriented lautari (musicians) with their youthful, forceful sound, the resulting eclectic mix is exhilirating and captivating, a combination of Gypsy, folk, pop and world music.

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News for May/June 2004
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News for October 2001