Dig Django Reinhardt? Well, consider checking out the Django Jam featuring guitarist Frank Vignola. It is scheduled for August 20-23, 2010 at Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch in Pomeroy, Ohio. If that journey is not doable, you would do just as fine listening to 100 Years of Django (Azica), where Vignola’s trio/quartet pays tribute to the Belgium-born guitarist.
Released January 26, 2010, three days after what would have been (Jean) "Django" Reinhardt’s 100th birthday, this recording features 10 songs composed by Reinhardt who, after being burned and nearly paralyzed in a fire as a teenager, lost full use of his left hand’s third and fourth fingers. He would recover strongly, however, and still play guitar by utilizing those deformed fingers exclusively for chording purposes.
"I chose 10 of my favorites spanning his brief life here on earth," Vignola states in his liner notes, referring to Reinhardt’s catalog, which numbers nearly 100 songs. Vignola, who arranged all the songs for this session, is joined by rhythm guitarist Vinny Raniolo and bassist Gary Mazzaroppi. Julien Labro, a jazz accordionist born in France, joins the trio on four selections.
This celebration, as Vignola appropriately calls it, begins with "Rhythm Futur," where Labro feasts on the melody for more than half the song’s six-plus minutes while the leader accompanies. When Vignola solos, he receives a dual accompaniment showcasing accordion and arco bass that provides quite an intriguing sound bed.
Labro’s ability to provide colors through accompaniment is displayed best on "Swing Gitane." While Vignola receives solid support from his trio, Labro’s support on his opening solo, and later, when trading ideas with the leader, is a highlight.
Vignola also explores what he calls Reinhardt’s impressionistic side on "Diminishing Blackness." "This piece was written as Django was watching a sunrise," Vignola writes. The guitars here are most engaged here in dialoging, both in stating the melody and through Raniolo’s energetic prodding that seemingly answers the leader’s thoughts without being intrusive.
Presence, not intrusion, is this ensemble’s strength. On "Song D’Automne," the rhythm section propels Vignola, and when Mazzaroppi solos, the guitarists reciprocate by adding to his in-the-moment expressions. This connection through clear communication is just as strong on "Douce Ambiance," where Vignola and Labro’s dialogue is interspersed with two bass solos.
Vignola recorded 100 Years of Django on June 8, 2009 at the First Baptist Church in Shaker Heights, Ohio. At that time, Vignola was 43-years old; Reinhardt died at that same age. Coincidental? Perhaps. Respectful? This recording certainly is that.