Django Festival All-Stars
Perelman Theater, Philadelphia
The Django Festival Allstars kicked off their current US tour in Philadelphia Nov. 3 with a 90 minute set as the premier artistic disciples of legendary guitarist-composer Django Reinhardt. The ensemble bringing Reinhardt’s artistic legacy and with new interpretations, variations and compositions bringing “gypsy jazz” to a new generation of avid fans.
Led by veteran guitarist/violinist Dorado Schmitt, his two sons Samson and Amati Schmitt on guitars and Franko Mehrstein, rhythm guitarist; filling out the AllStars accordionist extraordinaire Ludovic Beier, violinist Pierre Blanchard and bassist Gina Roman.
The AllStars are consummate musicians, virtuosic without doubt, but with a jam session vibe going, constantly feeding off the energy of each audience. Their one night only concert At the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater in Philly bringing the house down more than once.
Here are some random highlights.
The AllStars ignited the night with a quick tempo arrangement of Cole Porter’s ‘Love for Sale’ turned into a foxtroty rhythm guitar of Samson Schmitt and Mehrstein, under Blanchard’s supple violin lede melody, and the spidery accordion of Beier, all spinning the room around. The audience was in Django ‘s world of “hot jazz’ of the 30s by the end of the song that spins the room spins around.
The All-Stars only played one track from their latest recording 2017’s Attitude Manouche and with Beier saying they were delighted to kick off their tour in “beautiful Philadelphie and we have some new songs” for the occasion.
Beier announced a composition called “Deep Sea Waters” (I think) he wrote the week before the concert. He states the theme with a run of a 16th note stream of accordion consciousness with, a mach speed tempo, quick step tango, that like the dance keeps getting more intricate. Pierre has a cadenza then Mehrstein takes the lead on rhythm guitar, along with the muscled counterpoint of bassist Gina Roman.
Next, Samson Schmitt introduced his composition” Lovely Wife” the only track the AllStars performed from “Attitude Manouche. ” Samson’s Spanish-French guitar, backed by Beier and Blanchard atmospherics, is a true troubadour romanza.
They introduced “Dorado’s Smile” dedicated obviously to the leader of the AllStars. The tune is a accordion and guitar jam, A stop time dancey tune that in the dance hall of the 30s, couples who floor the floor for an at-ease Lindy hop.
Samson then introduced “the boss” his father Dorado and brother, fellow guitarist Amati Schmitt (in a suave satin floral jacket. A song from the film “Django.” Dorado hit the full swing violin jump. The tempo akin to ‘One o’clock jump’ and the ambiance just transporting and hypnotic. The breathtaking passagio fiddling up and down the scale, tingled up and down your spine. The rhythmic gypsy jazz rondo and Dorado’s violin voicing reaching the stratosphere and Beier’s lightning speed on the accordion keyboard hypnotize, in this tune there was even a blue slide feel ala Fats Waller, along with some rowdy vocalizing by the rest of the band.
When Pierre was offstage, Dorado played the soulful ‘For Pierre’ a sentimental tribute to the musical artistry of Blanchard.
As astounding as Beier is on the accordion as a one man orchestra, he is spellbinding playing the accordina a mini-mouth accordeon powered by his own lungs, his fingers playing a keyboard. In a lengthy improvisational ballade (possibly End of a Love Affair) exemplar of his astounding breath control and keyboard dexterity.
The AllStars showcased the range of Reinhardt’s aesthetic and as proponents of “gypsy jazz” how it has infinitely many permutations, colors, themes, evocations and musical possibilities in its multi-national folkloric fusion. The encore had so much Eastern European & Russian folkloric (an echo of Glinka?) DNA, maybe, who knows, it’s all jazz as Sachmo famously said, and with the Django Festival AllStars, it still sizzles, catch them if you can on their current tour.
After Philly, the band was headed for New Jersey, then a five night run at Birdland in New York, a few nights in New England, onto Canada and then the West Coast.