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Bireli Lagrene Concert: Review

mmaslanmmaslan Santa Barbara, CANew
edited June 2005 in CD, DVD, and Concert Reviews Posts: 87
I saw Bireli Lagrene last night in Santa Barbara and I urge you to do so if you have the opportunity. He seems to be on the college circuit, so check the university near you! It was a performance of frightening virtuosity. I never want to hear anybody complain again about the limitations of the Selmer-style guitar--or indeed, any other kind of guitar. In Bireli's hands, the guitar sounded like a sitar, a sarod, a harp, a bass, a hammer dulcimer, and a water drum. Not content to limit himself to the area between the bridge and the nut, during his unaccompanied encore he plucked the strings above and below them, loosened and tightened his strings with the tuners, and drummed on the loosened strings with his thumbs and fingers. The results were entirely musical, in part because he has such a fertile rhythmic imagination. I haven't seen anybody deconstruct an instrument in performance like that since I saw Max Roach do an encore on his high hat twenty something years ago. As soloing and comping with his band, which included Martin Weiss on violin and Hono Winterstein on rhythm guitar, Bireli was in constant, restless motion. His solos were sometimes insanely fast, and when he ran out of fretboard he just kept climbing. I'm no longer in love with speed for its own sake, but this performance was compelling on more than a technical level. I think that's because the speed at least appears to be an expression of the guitarist's restless spirit instead of mere showmanship. His comping behind Martin Weiss was almost more remarkable than his soloing--he was all over the guitar with arpeggios, bass runs, tremolo chords, you name it.

The band played a combination of Hot Club Standards and pieces I didn't recognize and assume are originals. (I don't know the newer GJ repertoire well). The former included All of Me, Hungaria (?), Minor Swing and Nuages. The latter included a lovely Latin & flamenco-tinged tune. Birle played three pieces unaccompanied, one of which had a decidedly Baroque flavor. It was beautiful. Although individual tunes were familiar, and swing elements were evident in the solos (along with bop and fusion), none of this sounded much like Django.

Bireli was playing a fourteen-fret grand bouche guitar which I believe was built by Stefan Hahl. Very fancy fret inlays and a very dark top--either old spruce or cedar. Plain nickel tailpiece. You can see the same guitar here:

Hono played a petit bouche.


  • djangologydjangology Portland, OregonModerator Dell Arte Hommage
    Posts: 888
    its nice to hear he still plays the Stephan Hahl guitar. i saw one for sale at but the price seems steep.

    as far as speed goes, i think of speed playing as more of a "wash of tension" rather than notes per second. it is musical in how the blur of notes guides your ear. its something that i never heard until gypsy jazz came along. its interesting to hear how every player approaches it and handles it. playing fast scales doesn't do it... its something that only an arpeggios can create as you place its blaze of specially chosen notes over a certain chord.
    "I want to party like its 1939!"
  • mmaslanmmaslan Santa Barbara, CANew
    Posts: 87
    Like the guitar in the picture Jonathan posted a link to above, Bireli's has a white saddle on the bridge--bone or ivory I imagine. You can't see it in the picture of him playing, and I'm not sure whether it was in one piece or two. But I was curious about it.
  • bbwood_98bbwood_98 Brooklyn, NyProdigy Vladimir music! Les Effes. . Its the best!
    Posts: 421
    Hi guys,
    I saw Mr. Lagrene in NYC with this band and the sax player from the new record (frank). They were just amazing . . .
    Each set had at least one totally improvised blues in it (cool- right?); a few gypsy jazz standards (all of me, hungaria, limehouse, minor swing, nuages, melodie au crepsicule, and more), and a few new tunes (un certain (a great blues the horn player wrote, Mimosa) a few jazz standards (this can't be love), and a solo improvisation by Bireli in some random tuning. Great set, and a really cool idea to have the horn player there- there were some antics (switching guitar and fiddle between Weiss and Birelli) and some really just fantastic swinging moments; a great band- truly inspiring!
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