Stephane Grappelli – Stephane Grappelli With Orchestra Plays Jerome Kern – Just A Memory Records JAM 9166-2, 57:20 [12/4/2011] ****1/2:
(Stephane Grappelli – violin, piano; Marc Fossett – guitar, vocals; Martin Taylor – guitar; Jack Sewing – bass; Martin Drew – drums; Alf Bigden – drums; Graham Ward – drums; Ettore Stratta – orchestra conductor; string arrangements by Jorge Calandrelli, Laurie Holloway and Daniel Frieberg)
Raised in France, Grappelli became proficient at many instruments, especially the violin. He brought jazz to the world stage in the thirties with the formation of Quintette of the Hot Club of France. The visionary “gypsy jazz” movement teamed him with the incomparable guitarist Django Reinhardt. individual instrument. People will argue indefinitely over great pianists…Brubeck, Evans, Tatum, Peterson, Tyner among many others. The same can be stated for saxophone (Coltrane, Hawkins, Rollins, Hodges) or for that matter nearly every other instrument. That is except for jazz violin. Only one performer is at this summit… the late Stephane Grappelli.” Recordings of classic jazz pieces like ”Limehouse Blues,” “It Don’t Mean A Thing”, “Them There Eyes,” “China Boy” and “Swing ‘39” established both Grappelli and Reinhardt as virtuosic legends. For the next fifty years, Grappelli recorded with a variety of musicians (including harmonica phenomenon Larry Adler and mandolin wizard David Grisman), enhancing his lofty stature. His brilliant technique and expressive phrasing endeared him to generations of fans.
Just a Memory Records has re-released the 1987 album, Stephane Grappelli With Orchestra Plays Jerome Kern. The match between the greatest living jazz violinist and an iconic purveyor of the American songbook is worthy of each talent. Like others before him, Grappelli has an intuition for the melodious context of these songs. The gossamer lyricism of “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” is captured by the heartfelt notation on violin. The orchestra provides shading, and a transition to a samba beat with guitar and vocalese is fresh. “The Way You Look Tonight”, often interpreted as a ballad is given full swing treatment. It is astonishing to think that a musician approaching eighty years can play with such intensity and focus. The samba resonance is also prevalent on “A Fine Romance”.
Grappelli is true to his “gypsy” roots in the moving rendition of “Yesterdays”. His interaction with guitarists Marc Fossett and Martin Taylor is precise and generous. While there have been many covers of this Kern number, this one stands with the best of them. Grappelli demonstrates his skill on piano at the start and finish of ”Long Ago And Far Away”. Of course the swirling lines of his violin are evocative and give substance to the performance. Even a basic upbeat number like “I Won’t Dance” is loaded with nuance and infectious tempo. Music that is familiar becomes new and exciting.
Kern’s Broadway masterpiece, Showboat, is represented on three tracks. ”Old Man River” is a Southern jazz feast as the orchestra is a lush counterpoint to the violin bravado, which includes a fiery tempo shift and hot guitar licks. Grappelli weaves a bluesy countenance on “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man”. His solos are flexible and express sentiment without maudlin overtones. The third song, “Why Do I Love You” is introduced with some nimble plucking before transitioning into a spirited arrangement (and the plucked ending).
The orchestra, under the direction of Ettore Strata, is understated and generates the necessary complement to the instrumentalists. Jorge Calandrelli, Laurie Holloway and Daniel Freiberg have come up with articulate, textured string arrangements that are very effective. Many popular composers of this era (with Kern allegedly among them) resisted the jazz-based interpretations of their compositions. Perhaps after hearing Stephane Grapelli With Orchestra Plays Jerome Kern, they would appreciate the earnest, if not stylized recreations of these American popular music classics.
TrackList: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes; The Way You Look Tonight; Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man; A Fine Romance; Yesterdays; Ol’ Man River; All The Things You Are; Pick Yourself Up; Why Do I Love You; I Won’t Dance; Long Ago And Far Away
A 50 year expanded reissue of a late-career Peggy Lee album hits the mark.