Saturday, May 20, 2017

Electric Django



It is often argued that when Django returned to Europe after his US tour with Duke Ellington, the new influences he had absorbed had changed his playing forever. Sure, with Duke he had played an electric archtop for the first time in his career (he simply had not taken his acoustic Selmer with him on the plane, not even a toothbrush as a matter of fact ...) but the following statement from Michael Dregni's book seems to stretch it a bit:
"He came to America playing swing. He returned to Paris playing modern jazz."
I think this is only partly true. You don't change your way of playing overnight. That takes a few years. His style had been developing since the late 30s and many of the traditional gypsy elements had disappeared already at the end of the war, in favor of a more modern approach. Listen to this take that was recorded during the historic tour with Duke in 1946:



It already sounds remarkably modern to me. He must have been assimilating the new jazz sounds for a few years ... And he really sounds quite comfortable with the Gibson L5 archtop he is playing. The guitar was fitted with a DeArmond pick-up and amped by a small combo amp. He never seemed to like archtops though. He once called them "tinpot guitars." When he returned to Europe after the war he put a Stimer pick-up on his Selmer.
 At the end of the war recordings from the USA started to filter through to Europe and in 1946 Django at last went to America and heard the developments of the "new" jazz firsthand. It was here that Django played an electric guitar for the first time. Listening to the few tracks recorded with Duke Ellington it sounds as though Django has also got hold of a good amp for the day. He has that uniquely big tone, but very little of the distortion which is characteristic of his early attempts to record with electric guitar. 
By 1949 the Bebop influence on Django's playing is obvious. His lines sound more and more Christian like and at this time he only plays his Selmer through an amp. Here's an old Stimer ad in which Django endorses his gear (pick-up and amp):


In 1951 Django put together a new band of the best young modern musicians in Paris including Hubert Fol, an altoist in the Charlie Parker mould. Listen to these 1951 clips of that band and what you hear is eh ... a bebop guitarist playing bebop.



But time was running out for Django. He did not record much in 1952 but in his final half year of life he produced some very interesting recordings on electric guitar, on March 10 and April 8. Another quote from Wayne Jefferies:
The March 10th session produced 8 absolute classics, including arguably his greatest rendition of Nuages. despite a couple of great swingers in Night and Day, and Brazil the whole atmosphere of this session is somehow permeated with a great melancholy. Evident on all the tracks is a strange mixture of sadness, beauty and depth. Manoir de Mes Reves has an air of quiet acceptance. It is very peaceful, but at the same time there is an almost unbearably desolate quality to it. As Norman Monyan observed, "its almost like he knew the end was coming."

Here's "Nuages" from the March 10 session.


And from that same fabulous recording session "Blues for Ike." Interesting to compare it with the earlier "Blues Riff" take he did in concert with Duke Ellington in 1946.


There was to be one more recording session on April 8 that produced four more takes showcasing Django as a modern jazz player. Here's "I cover the waterfront."


And from that same last session "Deccaphonie."



Django would be dead a month after this recording session. For a video account of his death click here.

I visted his house and his grave in Samois in 2004. He spent the last years of his life in the beautiful and picturesque village of Samois Sur Seine where he must have enjoyed some tranquillity, just fishing and painting.

It's easy to understand Bireli's remark that I quoted in my previous Blog entry:
"Django helped me to see what was happening elsewhere"
I'd like to close off with another quote from Wayne Jefferies. I think he sums up my feelings on the subject pretty well:
Perhaps with a little more time Django would have been accepted as a modern guitarist. As it was many of his fans would ask him "why don't you play like you used to with Grappelli". How saddening it must have been for this great man, in a sense snared by his past genius, who only wanted to express himself through the music that he felt and loved. Django's influence on the modern movement could have been much greater with another shot at America. But it was not to be. Nevertheless his place in Jazz history is assured, and for many he will continue to be the greatest guitarist that ever lived.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Bireli


In my last post I talked about chopsmeister Andreas Oberg. Well, here's an even bigger one. Bireli Lagrene. What's to say about him. He's a phenomenon. If there were an interstellar jazz guitar contest, my vote for the planet earth's contestant would most certainly go to Bireli. He's the virtuoso of virtuosos. The prodigy of prodigies. He was playing Manouche guitar at 7 and recorded his first album in this style in his early teens, But, surprisingly, he looked way further than the gypsy guitar. "Django helped me to see what was happening elsewhere" he likes to recall. And there he was, in the 80s, playing with Jaco:
During the next few years, Lagrène toured with Al Di Meola, Paco de Lucía, and John McLaughlin, all of them guitarists, and played with Benny Carter, Benny Goodman, and Stéphane Grappellii. He joined Larry Coryell and Vic Juris in New York City for a tribute to Reinhardt in 1984, and went on tour with Coryell and Philip Catherine. He also performed with Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke, the Gil Evans Orchestra, Christian Escoudé, and Charlie Haden. In 1989 he performed in a duo with Stanley Jordan. 
I remember the first album I heard from him. It was his 1992 "Standards" album. NHOP is on it. He was 26 when he recorded that album. Click here to listen to it. Still a fantastic album.

A few years later he appeared on the Jazz in Marciac festival with his own trio. There is still some footage of that mind blowing set on Youtube fortunately:


I'm not going to expand on his career further. Of course you know about his duets with Sylvain Luc. His countless apperances at Samois, Marciac and Montreux. His impressive discography. These days he is one of the biggest stars in contemporary and gypsy jazz. A musician's musician that can very intimidating to listen to or watch. He switches from Gypsy jazz to Fusion to Bebop to Metal, Blues, to bass guitar to double bass to jazz violin and jazz singing just like that ... I have never seen anything like it. And he does it all well if not ridiculously well. The man is a force of nature.


In 2012 he recorded an album with with franck Wolf (saxophones), Jean-Yves Jung (orgue Hammond) and Jean-Marc Robin (batterie). The title track is calles Mouvements and is basically a Bach like fugue. Here's a live rendition. It's fun to watch:



Here's a transcription of the album version. Listen and marvel. So happy I don't have to play shit like that for a living! 



Andreas Oberg Live in Concert






I have written about Andreas Oberg earlier. I'm not sure what he is up to these days jazz wise (he's making big bucks writing and producing top hit pop tunes for the Asian market) but heck, the man has always been a player I really dig. Like Bireli Lagrene, he's one of those in-your-face chopsmeisters that some jazz snobs on the internet like to discard ("I rather hear one note from Jim Hall than ..." is what you usually get to hear ...) but that I seem to prefer with a vengeance. Such an exciting player. And yes, he's great on ballads too. Guys that can play really fast are always great on slow tunes too. That's because they can really play (yawn ... are we clear here?). Oberg is simply one of the great European jazz guitarists.

The live concert is an older one from 2006. On Youtube it is chopped into 4 parts. A regular bop fest, chops galore. That piano player (Petrescu) is insane too. Have fun ... Bop till you drop!

Click here for a playlist.









Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Home Recording Update



A few posts ago I was kind of enthusiastic about Audacity. I still think it's pretty cool for all free recording software. However I discovered some serious flaws, namely the fact that all the audio editing is destructive. More professional software doesn't have that. A non destructive audio editor saves the steps of the changes that occur on the sound file separately so the edited file as well as the original file are saved. At any point in time you can go back to the original wave form because it hasn’t been modified. Another serious draw back is the latency problem that invariably occurs in Audacity. You have to experiment with latency corrections before you can multi track.

So I went to better mulitracking software and ended up with Cakewalk Producer X2.  Zero latency and non destructive editing. But not free. Here's a track I recorded today. Two tracks, no overdubbing. So complete single takes. I'm still in a learning curve so I don't even how to fix glitches and mistakes yet! The guitar you hear is my most recent acquisition, a 1964 Gibson Es 125.

And also in the hardware department there were some changes made. I purchased a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB audio interface (no more hiss and noise!!!!!) and an Art Studio V3 valve preamp. I noticed that there was something missing in the amp modelling sounds I use when I make a video or an audio recording. And i am pleased with the Art Studio V3 preamp. It warms up the digital guitar sounds nicely but also any microphone will sound better through it. The cool thing about the Studio V3 is that has a preset of a number valve "voicings", suitable for guitar, keyboards, piano, bass, vocals, acoustic guitar etc.

Here's the complete signal chain of my current recording rig:



As you can see I send all the sounds through a Behringer mixer before it gets to the Focusrite audio interface that converts them to digital sound before it enters Sonar Producer on my laptop.

The stereo amp modeller is used for recording guitar but I sometimes use a mike to to record acoustic sounds. I still like the Digitech amp modeller better than the virtual amp that is in the Sonar software. I kind of prefer to have a good sound before it goes into the laptop. But it's possible too to record using the on board virtal amp in Sonar. It's not bad.

So much still to discover in Sonar. I've only scratched the surface so far ...