By Mike Joyce
Oct. 31, 2005
The Django Reinhardt Festival at the Kennedy Center’s KC Jazz Club on Friday night couldn’t have made Franco-American relations seem more harmonious.
Though the transatlantic array of talent was weighted in favor of French musicians, the arrangements neatly accommodated all six players. The center of focus was French guitar virtuoso Dorado Schmitt. Beginning with a Reinhardt favorite, the pop standard “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” Schmitt displayed complete mastery of Gypsy jazz guitar technique while frequently alluding to the trademark elements of Reinhardt’s style: darting arpeggios, fretboard-sweeping slides, half- and whole-note bends, sparkling harmonics, vocal-like phrasing. Schmitt’s son Samson mostly played rhythm guitar in swing time, more often than not with propulsive power. When he played lead, however, he dashed off single note lines with clarity and verve. Tel pere, tel fils .
The performance, hosted and nimbly underscored by bassist Brian Torff, also pointed to Reinhardt’s ties to Stephane Grappelli — whenever violinist Pierre Blanchard’s deft touch and singing tone was showcased — and referenced swing-era recordings made on this side of the Atlantic. Indeed, saxophonist Joel Frahm never sounded more soulful than when performing “Body and Soul,” conjuring a resonating warmth that recalled Coleman Hawkins’s definitive version of the tune.
Heightening the Gallic swing mood on “Sweet Sue” and other tunes was accordionist Ludovic Beier, who also contributed the evening’s loveliest original composition, “Souvenir of Autumn.” Rendered as a duet, the reflective ballad was subtly enhanced by Samson Schmitt’s altered guitar tuning.