(Iris Musique, 1998)

While there are dozens of fine releases each year in the manouche, or gypsy jazz tradition, there is rarely any innovation in what is often nothing more than an exercise in nostalgia. The style made famous by the estimable Django, particularly in his Hot Club recordings with Stephane Grapelli, can be heard in countless reworkings of the songs he made into the standards of the genre.

What sets Belgian-born guitarist Patrick "Romane" Leguidcoq apart from the hordes of supremely talented manouche practitioners is his choice of material, culled primarily from his own compositions. Seven of the eleven tracks on Samois-Sur-Seine are Romane originals.

The core band on the CD is made up of Herve Legeay, Frederic Loiseaw and Phillipe Cuillerier, all on guitar, Alice Bassie on bass and the great Florin Niculescu on violin. Guests on the recording include Angelo Debarre, Roland Dyens and Babik Reinhardt (Django's son). On each track the rhythm section functions like a single entity, propelling the music forward, while Romane spins seemingly effortless lines over the swinging foundation they lay down.

Highlights of the CD include the opening track, "Legende," which features Debarre. The pace is exhilarating with Romane and Debarre's fiery improvisations bookending a masterful, spiky violin solo by Niculescu. The gorgeous "Traces de Loups" is played at a less frenetic pace, featuring beautifully crafted solos by both Romane and Niculescu. Both soloists demonstrate admirable restraint in their improvisations, championing melody over flashy displays of technique. In a departure from the easy swinging feel that dominates the rest of the CD, classical guitarist Dyens joins Romane on "Dans Le Regard de Laura." It's a dense, melancholic piece that allows the listener to hear another side of Romane's playing and demonstrates the breadth of his talent as a composer.

The playing on this CD, not to mention the sound quality, makes it an indispensable addition to the collection of any fans of the gypsy jazz tradition, easily recommendable to fans of jazz and acoustic music in general. On Samois-Sur-Seine, it's refreshing to hear Romane pushing the tradition forward without diluting its original, swinging essence.

[ by Rob Stephenson ]
Rambles: 11 October 2002

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