Django Reinhardt & Stephane Grappelli – Quintet of the Hot Club of France

Is anyone else titillated by the prospects that lay in that partially opened blind?


Sweet & Lowdown was the last Woody Allen movie I ever watched. I was a huge Woody Allen fan up to that point, watching and re-watching all of his movies. But after Sweet & Lowdown he put out a couple that just didn’t look interesting to me (I know one was Curse of the Jade Scorpion, forget what the other was). By the time he was making movies that people seemed interested in again, I was out of the habit and just never got around to them. I’m not one to believe it is important to judge a person’s art by a person’s actions, but I have to admit it feels kinda nice to have got out in front of this one. If losing interest in the late ‘90s counts as out front. I mean, he did run away with his daughter in 1992.

Woody Allen notwithstanding, I really love this music. I don’t remember exactly when I first heard Django Reinhardt, but it seems a fair guess that it was in some vintage clothing store in Kensington Market. Hearing old timey music in that setting always struck a chord with me. Cramped, colourful aisles of clothes. The heavy scent of nag champa blending with the blanket of mustiness and settling halfway up my nose, slowly drawing out a sneeze. And always old blues or jazz on the speakers. In that setting, the most straight-ahead jazz would feel like the coolest thing I’d ever heard.

Hell, listening to this in my living room right now it still sounds pretty fucking cool. Django Reinhardt is a brilliant guitarist. He plays with such nimble physicality and approaches melodies with a buoyant playfulness. Even when he’s laying back to accompany Grappelli, the way he does those rapid, rhythmic, rolls on his guitar is spellbinding. The two really work each other up into a frenzy on “Miss Annabelle Lee.” “Tears” sounds like music from one of those old black and white cartoons that’s like a fever dream with skeletons dancing and more dark and disturbing images than you ever expect from something that’s that old or that animated.

My favourite track on this album has always been “Mystery Pacific” though. It opens with an excellent musical impression of a train rolling down a track, chug-a-chugging out of the station, picking up steam, the steam whistle blows, the wheels howl as they grind on the tracks and from this comes a rapid, virtuosic performance rolling out across the aurally painted landscape, like some earthbound flight of the bumblebee. Then it ends abruptly with the striking and muting of a chord that plays as equal parts train crash and mic drop.

***

Favourite Song: Mystery Pacific

Runner Up: When Day is Done

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