Django Reinhardt: The Essential Django Reinhardt

The legendary three-fingered Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt (1910-1953) was the first guitar hero. He was the first European to play single-note guitar solos (Eddie Lang was the first American). Django was a larger-than-life figure whose personal life epitomized the devil-may-care hedonistic wandering Gypsy aesthetic; he cut 750 tracks from 1928 to 1953, and his brand of Gypsy Jazz is still alive today, 58 years after his death. It’s a freewheeling style incorporating Euro folk, swing, balladry and classical.

These 36 gems were recorded in 1949 and 1950 with violinist Stephane Grappelli (1908-1997), his partner in The Quintette du Hot Club De France, the celebrated band which made them both international superstars who went on to play with Ellington and Armstrong.

The playfulness and exuberant experimental wildness that characterized their best moments in the Quintette are all on display here. The mad violin and guitar solos are jamband quality as they each skip, prance, wander, run and jump with amazing dexterity.

The material is all over the map. They groove through everything from the minstrel show classic “Darktown Strutter’s Ball” to “Improvisation On Tchaikowsky’s `Pathetique’ Andante” as well as the Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm,” Ella Fitzgerald’s “A Tisket A Tasket,” a “Russian Songs Medley,” Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose” and songs associated with Lena Horne (“Stormy Weather”) and Billie Holiday (“Lover Man”).

The ride is tricky and non-stop, as they zip from genre to genre without catching their breath, a carnivalesque no-vocals thrill of joyous proportions. Guitarists, especially, should do themselves a favor by latching on to some Django.

In A Word: Dizzying