Le Chant du Monde

Dreyfus Jazz/Koch International

Here are two CDs that can be marked as projects which are both based on the music of gypsy-swing hero Django Reinhardt. And that's not the only common ingredient. There's also the guitars used.
Angelo Debarre and Tchavolo Schmitt are renowned swing guitarists. For Memoires, they invited fellow guitarists Tchavolo Hassan and Chinquito Lambert together with bass player Etienne Lemauf to join them. The idea behind this project was not just another tribute to Django but more specifically, to the guitar he used to play. In his days, that was the 1939 Selmer 452. This legendary guitar is something like a Stradivarius - the few left are priceless. This inspired Serge Gallato and Geronimo Mateos to start the long struggle of building a new guitar after the famous Selmer example. It took two years of hard work and tinkering to get the same sound, quality and feel of the original in the new Gallato guitar.

To celebrate their success, Serge Gallato organized a gypsy swing session with these guitarists and bassist. The result? An on-stage event in the Deltour studio of Toulouse/France before a live audience - 4 Gallato '452' guitars, one double bass and just a few microphones. Accordingly, the recording is very life-like, with the guitars properly sized due to the microphone technique used. A whole set of Django standards come by. There's "Minor Swing", "Troublant Bolero", "Twelfth Year" and "Blues en Mineur". But there are also recent works like "Valse Tchavolo" to make this into definitely one of the finest recordings of the genre in many years. The fun leaps out of the loudspeakers. The hand of the instrument maker, Serge Gallato now acting as producer, does wonders for the sound quality.

Alas, how different is the Bireli Lagrène Project & Friends. Here Lagrène assembles 5 Selmer or Gallato 452 models in the hands of his cousin Holzmano Lagrène, Dutch master gypsy Stochelo Rosenberg, Hono Winterstein and Thomas Dutronc, with Diego Imbert behind the upright bass and Florin Niculescu on violin. We're again treated to a whole spectrum of Django classics - "Djangology", "Babik", "Minor Swing", "Artillerie Lourde" and "Place de Broukere". We have heard these songs many times and they are still worthwhile. These classics are put between others like "Bei dir war es immer schön", "Envie de Toi" (with vocals by Henri Salvador) and "Ma Premiere Guitarre".

When you compare both CDs, one thing jumps out at you - the difference in recording quality of virtually the same music. Where Memoires has a sweet natural sound with lots of air and room for all instruments, the Lagrène recording goes for the complete opposite. First off, it's a studio recording with mixes and doubles. Second, the microphone technique used not only places them quite close in front of the guitars, they also used actual contact microphones. The result is a very loud metallic sound. Add to this Bireli's signature playing style that is powerful and the sound becomes harder still. It is not the musicians' fault - they are absolute masters of the fast and furious. The culprits are the producer and his engineers. Compared to the Debarre project, this recording lacks a coherent feel of the music. However, once you disregard the critical notes on the production, this is a wonderful tribute to Django and his style of playing as performed today by the crème de la crème.

PS: Just for the fun of it, we processed the Lagrène CD through CoolEdit 2000. This software includes a statistical function that can display the digital samples' maximum values. Every 16-bit word can represent a maximum value of 32.767. The louder a recording is, the more samples reach this value. At the same time, when a recording is this loud, the maximum dynamic range is limited - if everything is loud, there is no nuance.

High levels also pose the risk of clipping. CoolEdit's analysis shows that the first track of the Lagrène CD alone contains more than 5000 samples that are clipping or on the verge of clipping. Might this explain why we did not like the sound of this recording?

Once we found this amazing correlation, we treated the Debarre recording the same way, captured with EAC and then analyzed with CoolEdit. EAC already showed a max level of 87% where 100% equals 0dB of attenuation or the 32.767 value at full throttle. CoolEdit's analysis showed zero clipping and a maximum value of -1.19dB to -1.29dB below zero attenuation. These findings are easy to generate and we will look into this process more in our upcoming reviews.