The eighth annual Django Reinhardt festival at Birdland once again illustrated the fresh, coursing legacy of the legendary Belgian-born Gypsy guitarist, who died in 1953. “Swing Gitano,” inspired by a French word for European wanderers, proved to be a briskly paced opener for Kruno and rhythm guitarist Samson Schmitt.
Strongly melodic and balanced by bold rhythmic emphasis, guitar soloist Kruno displayed flashing improvisational lines and bold rhythmic variety.
Young guitarist David Reinhardt, Django’s grandson, followed by displaying a buoyantly poised, if tentative, take on “Nina.” In a supporting role, he, along with Schmitt and bassist Brian Torff, provided a solid foundation for accordionist Ludovic Beier, who proved there is more than one way to swing. With Juan Tizol’s “Caravan,” Beier created a volcanic groove that brought cohesion and excitement to both the rhythm section and the spectators.
Opening-night guest Houston Person contributed his bold and flavorful trademark tenor sax to the plaintive Henry Mancini movie tune “Days of Wine of Roses.” Braced by Beier’s dancing accordion support, Person nursed the lovely melodic lines with his familiar full, broad tone.
Gypsy legend Dorado Schmitt is perhaps the closest one can get to Django’s incomparable thrust and sound. His dancing waltz was poetically charged with the kind of fire and grace that was Django’s trademark style.
Carrying on the tradition of the late legendary Stephane Grappelli, violinist Florin Niculescu took the stage, and for a fleeting few moments, the historic Quintet of the Hot Club of France was reborn. From the classic Django repertoire, “Coquette” and the sublimely infectious “Daphne” served Niculesco and Schmitt for a display of great joy and mutual admiration. The complex improvisational patterns surfaced with vigor and an infectious buoyancy.
Musical director Torff, along with Schmitt, provided pulsating assists throughout. All 10 musicians united for the dazzling finale, “Minor Swing,” a staple of the Hot Club book and a boldly flavorful melody.