Iris Music / Harmonia Mundi, 2001
3001 851 / HMCD 87
Django meets the Duke.

Though he always dreamt of beefing up the numbers of his famous Parisian prewar "Hot Club de France Quintet", Django Reinhardt himself actually never did. The closest he came to fulfilling that ambition was a recording session at the end of the hostilities, with colleagues of the famous Glenn Miller.

One of the most inspired contemporary Gipsy Swing guitarists, Patrick "Romane" Leguidcoq, now gets to right destiny's historic oversight. On the present release -- as the liner notes claim his 9th which means I'm regrettably still short two -- he joins forces with the Frederic Manoukian Orchestra to transfer nine of his most celebrated original compositions from the traditional trio formation -- lead guitar, rhythm guitar, double bass, sometimes augmented by fiddle, clarinet or accordion -- into the symphonic Big Band milieu.

What on paper sounds like a surefire recipe for stylistic disaster transforms in the capable hands of arranger Manoukian into pure inspiration.

Like a symphonic master painter --a Ravel or Khatchaturian -- Manoukian craftily employs the enormous palette of possible timbres one can derive from piano, rhythm guitar, double bass, percussion, five assorted saxophonists equally adept at flute, clarinet and piccolo, plus five trombones and trumpets each.

Bopping stomps have syncopated sax formation duel with jivin' brasses while Roman's silvery Dupont takes perfectly poised center seat, never once overwhelmed by the 20-head troupe. It's proof of admirable collective restraint how these large numbers mesh with the precision of greased lightning around the soloist, yet never once degrade into the high output cacophony that would undermine the fleet-footed filigree of his swingin' strings.

Romane's famously wistful "The Look of Laura" gets the highbrow Hercule Poirot makeover while "Sidewalk Story" veers into cabaret, with Romane's trusted rhythm guitar sidekick grabbing the mike for some suave "Madame, ce soir je suis amour" insinuations around which Romane's now electric guitar grows filigreed tendrils.

"Sidewalk Story" assumes the droll mien of a circus farce while "Gipsy Fever" is a straight-ahead Big Band swing chaser. On "Forever Yvonne", a throttled-back slow-mo ballad means some tasteful solo flute over piano followed by muted trumpet against brass chorus before the laissez-faire e-guitar of Romane slyly segues into the main theme.

As one who has followed Romane's advancing maturity over the years and thought his Elegance album with Stochelo Rosenberg a crowning touch, I have to confess that this musician's journey is far from over. And rather than follow predictable routes, he keeps surprising us - as he does here. Still exhibiting the same keen intelligence that has long since steered him clear of the carbon copy fate of lesser Django admirers, he keeps crossing paths with the famous predecessor, but always on his own unique terms.

The present release is simply yet further proof of both - realizing, as in a tribute, a dream the Gipsy himself wasn't never meant to, and manifesting it exclusively with his very own tunes. For lovers of Manouche Jazz, another must-own highlight!