Paris, 1939. Long shadows of war started to loom over the City of Light as Europe edged toward the brink of terrible darkness. A portal to comprehending those times can be reading old newspapers, viewing newsreels and period films as well as listening to music, especially the swing jazz of Django Reinhardt. Reinhart's music is like a time machine, transporting listeners to another time and place, distant but familiar.
Born in 1910, Reinhardt was raised in a gypsy settlement outside of Paris. Although he had little formal education. He signed his name with an X, he taught himself the guitar, violin and banjo. He excelled with the guitar in his teens and emerged as a guitarist with flawless technique and speed despite a caravan fire in 1928, which severely burnt three fingers on his left hand, the use of which he never regained. His compositions absorbed strands of imported American jazz that are interwoven with traditional gypsy rhythms. Together with violinist Stephane Grapelli, Reinhart's Quintette du Hot Club de France established themselves as one of the pioneers of European jazz. The sound was infectious, exuberant yet refined.
This Naxos volume is assembled from four recording sessions in Paris and London with slight changes in the Quintette personnel. "Appel Indirect" sounds reminiscent of staring out of a window compartment of a night train pulling out of Gard du Nord and steaming through the French countryside. "Souvenirs" is a quiet reflective piece, a memory that smolders like a slowly burning ember. "Nocturne" is a violin-guitar duet that evokes a sorrowful slow midnight dance with rain drumming on the roof of a cafe. "Billets Doux" seems like a rollicking stroll along the Parisian quay.
Each of the pieces is magical evoking a Paris before the war, a twilight time of intrigue, conflicting loyalties and uncertain sentiments. Through Reinhardt and Grapelli's music, the listener can sense the life and style of a place that can only be cosmopolitan Paris before occupation.