Guitarist Bireli Lagrene spent his teenage years sounding very close in style to Django Reinhardt. For this German import, his second recording, the 14-year old romps in Djangoish fashion on such tunes as "Djangology," "Lady Be Good" and "Nuages" but also was starting to show some individuality on his own originals. Most of the selections are performed with one or two rhythm guitarists and a bassist, all Europeans. Lagrene has since grown as a player; if only he had had the opportunity this early to record with violinist Stephane Grappelli before his own style changed.
When Biréli Lagrène's Routes to Django: Live was issued in 1980, the 13-year-old jazz guitarist was immediately praised by critics as a protégé of Django Reinhardt. He had already won a prize in a festival at Strasbourg in 1978, and his appearance at a Gypsy festival was broadcast on television.
The occasion for this trio to work together was a 2010 concert that celebrated violinist Jean-Luc Ponty's 50th anniversary as a recording artist. Both the violinist and Stanley Clarke had collaborated before (a previous electric trio set with Al Di Meola, the Rite Of Strings was issued in 1995), but neither had collaborated with French jazz guitarist Bireli Lagrene prior to that evening. In playing for a mere 20 minutes, they created the impetus for D-Stringz – though it took two years for them to clear their schedules and get into a Brussels studio. These ten tunes are an assortment of standards and originals. The album is an acoustic, straight-ahead date that employs flawless swinging bop and post-bop, as well as 21st century takes on gypsy and soul-jazz and funk.
Recorded shortly before his playing began to change, this Antilles release features guitarist Bireli Lagrene at the age of 15 jamming in the difficult-to-duplicate style of Django Reinhardt. Lagrene, who was one of the best Reinhardt soundalikes ever, is featured in small groups with other Europeans and sounds at his early best on "Sweet Georgia Brown," "Dark Eyes," "Blues for Bireli" and "I Can't Give You Anything but Love." It is a pity that Lagrene (who is so brilliant in this context) does not play this way very often anymore.
My Favorite Django is a sincere and respectful homage from a guitarist at the absolute top of his form, surrounded by equally high-ranking musicians. Listening to Django’s nine tunes reprised, one by Joseph Kosma as well one by Bireli himself (modestly entitled Solo), it is easy to say that the famous gypsy guitarist would play something like this today – just like Django’s son, Babik – to whom the disc is dedicated – said in a recent interview, “If my father were still alive, I am sure he would enjoy playing the guitar synthesiser.” This is for anyone who might think that Bireli Lagrène is ‘betraying’ the spirit of Reinhardt’s iconic compositions.
Fans of guitarist Bireli Lagrene's early work probably will not care for this often passionate CD. Lagrene, who had switched from swing to fusion a few years earlier (and from acoustic guitar to electric), mostly roars throughout seven of his originals (plus Django Reinhardt's "Incertitude"), jamming with tenor saxophonist Bill Evans, keyboardist Clifford Carter, electric bassist Victor Bailey, percussionist Café and one of four drummers. The music is well-played but not all that memorable; none of the original themes were destined to catch on.