Division One/Atlantic 83498-2
A live excerpt of four days of breakneck head-turning, high-level musicianship that took place November 29 to December 2, 2000 in New York's famous Jazz club - this CD is testament to what happens when two music mavens and producer-managers birth an ambitious vision and don't stop until they see it safely delivered.
After "The Sheik of Araby" fire-eating opener burns itself to smithereens in 2.5 minutes of incandescent glory, guitarist Frank Vignola puns self-deprecatingly "now let's kick some ass". The audience howls at this improbable understatement. This sets the entire mood of Live. It epitomizes the care whereby festival organizers Ettore Stratta and Pat Philips went about staging a domestic likeness of the famed annual Samois-sur-Seine festival in France where Reinhardt spent his final years, and which since has become the Lourdes or Mecca of Gipsy-Swing guitarists and connoisseurs everywhere.
Luminaries Les Paul, George Benson and Al DiMeola sat in the audience. Dutch wunderkind Jimmy Rosenberg, American Jazz guitar sensation Frank Vignola, Stephane Grappelli's bassist Jon Burr, violin maverick Regina Carter, Romanian Jazz fiddler Florin Niculescu and Babik Reinhardt, the festival honoree' son, took to stage. The atmosphere captured on disc is charged with love and spontaneous appreciation by the attendees; and play-your-heart-out, man-we're-in-America effervescent one-upmanship by the spotlighted musicians.
With Regina Carter at the helm, the Ellington tune "It Don't Mean A Thing" gets the churning improv-on-razor's-edge makeover. If ever a lady hauled a goodly helping of whoppee-ass out in public and shredded horsehairs in the process, Carter here demonstrates how. The uncensored approval of the audience egging her own is as inspirational as drummer Joe Ascione's yummy-yummy grunting while Carter rips through "I Can't Believe You're In Love With Me" like a fiend.
"Bei DIr War Es Immer So Schön" is a smoochy slo-mo ballad that showcases the incredible talent of 20-something Jimmy Rosenberg who simply suspends time. His demonic mastery of the guitar thrives on maturity. It values the dark spaces of silence just as much as shotgun arpeggios.
"Swing 49" sees Bireli Lagrene take the lead with a monster solo that becomes diving board for young Jimmy to launch into comfortably upstaging his peer. Someone in the band nods his head with a fat "yeah" before the two guitarist duel it out in four-bar trades. At 6:16 minutes, "Swing" is one of the athletic highlights in a grab bag filled with highlights.
"Turkish Delight" is a Rosenberg-penned straight-ahead chaser with some clever timing breaks that signal solo trading between Jimmy and an equally wizard-fingered Frank Vignola. Jimmy's theme capitulation in the closing cadence pushes Jon Burr's solid time keeping like a Gipsy violin prima attempts to throw off the shackles of his less nimbly fingered cohorts.
The exuberant take-all-comers vibe shifts to moody introspection when Babik takes the helm on his self-penned "Une Histoire Simple". Fiddle czar and Gipsy Swing regular Florin Niculescu opens up the dreamy tune before Django's son segues away on his electric guitar in a style all his own. Pianist Pete Malinverni had just met Babik that very day but, with drummer Leroy Williams, sits in on this tune like an old-time companion.
The closing "Limehouse Blues" goes seriously uptempo again. Jimmy and Frank pull out all the stops and grab thematic fragments from other tunes for good measure while Burr holds the reigns on the stampeding lads throwing huge tremolos and dazzling the audience with rapid runs across their fretboards.
If the above descriptions haven't cued you in to the vibrant spectacle that is Live at the Birdland -- the US-soil Gladiator soundtrack of the Jazz Manouche genre -- the music itself will surely grab you by the throat if you seek it out to begin with. Afterwards, you'll wonder about all the killer tracks you missed since the present record condensed four days of sublime music making into one far-too-short hour.
Classic Blue Moon Award material - rare, obvious when it occurs, making your aural loins ache for more, much more.