Prototype guitar hero Django Reinhardt tore up the jazz world with his fiery gypsy swing style, doing with two fingers – the other pair lost in a caravan fire – what no one before him had done with a full four.
And nearly 60 years after his death Reinhardt still has a fair claim to being Europe’s best known jazzer, creating an entirely new music distinct from the predominant American idiom.
One day in 1939 Europe’s new swing king holed up in the studio with three players from American’s reigning royalty, the Duke Ellington band. Laying down just six songs, the impromptu jam was an organic blend of Django’s gypsy roots and the New Orleans groove.
In a bid to recreate that fateful afternoon, Django A La Creole take tunes by heavyweights like Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong and put them in the Quintette du Hot Club de France’s style, while also blending Reinhardt’s familiar themes with a Creole shade – or as Morton put it himself, “that Spanish tinge.”
For bandleader Evan Christopher it’s a labour of love; while living in Paris he became inspired to blend the music around him with that of his nativeNew Orleans. The clarinettist’s respect for the project shone most in his improvisations, always short, sharp and swinging affairs, tastefully in keeping with the period he is evoking.
In a project celebrating Django, the weight heaving on the lead guitarist’s shoulders is always more than substantial, but Dave Blenkhorn was up to the task, a technician of the frets spinning out a dazzling display of six string dexterity.
The line-up completed with just double bass and rhythm guitar, the quartet were not so much cooking, as steaming away in the corner. Christopher’s experiment isn’t a brave one, but the top notch playing and sympathetic arrangements worthily recreate a golden period in music.
Django A La Creole played at Fairfield Halls, Croydon, on May 24