Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 4, No. 4, 2005

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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Mark Goldfarb
  Contributing Editors
Bernard Dubé
Phil Nixon
Robert Rotondo
Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
  Music Editors
Emanuel Pordes
Serge Gamache
  Arts Editor
Lydia Schrufer
Mady Bourdage
Emanuel Pordes
  Past Jazz Contributors

Tommy Emmanuel
John Stetch
Susie Arioli
Coral Egan
Diana Krall
Stacey Kent
Carol Welsman
Aldo Romano
Denzal Sinclaire
Madeleine Peyroux

Montreal Jazz Festival 2005







Piano Keyboard


by Robert J. Lewis

Featured artist: BIRELI LAGRENE

He dazzles. And I don’t like to be dazzled. But before dismissing him outright, I decided to go deep into the heart of dazzle, like root canal sufferers go deep into the heart of pain to make it go away. That’s how it all began with Bireli Lagrene.

There isn’t a guitarist alive who can fire away as fast as Bireli. Imagine a guitar showdown in the musical equivalent of the OK Corral with erstwhile immortals John McLaughlin, Al Dimeola, Pat Metheny, and last but not least Señor Paco de Lucia and his five-fingered flamenco compadres. All but the fastest are buried in Boot Hill -- but lest we forget, speed kills.

Gyspy Bireli Lagrene was born in the Alsace in 1966. By the age of 5, he was playing Django riffs. In his early twenties, he landed a gig with Jaco Pastorius and friends, and now, having played with the world’s best in all sorts of contexts and combos, Bireli has returned to the softer sound of his early years as well as The American Songbook.

What distinguishes Lagrene are the exceptional demands he makes on his listeners, especially in the confines of a sound and style that is as subdued (à la Jim Hall) as his soloing is quietly brilliant. But in order to get there, you have to ignore his furious finger work and every other preconceived notion about his playing so his remarkable voice can disclose its true contours. Then you’ll discover, as I did, that Bireli is not a soul on ice, but fire on ice - a gifted musician who doesn’t so much reveal the standards as resurrect them, while staying true to their original impulse. Which is to say Bireli isn’t fast; Bireli is Bireli.

In his version of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile, which never strays far from the original, Lagrene's solos are so inventive and astonishingly lyrical, you can almost see star bursts of notes in the sky, and comets of sound streaking across the heavenly night for the pleasure of mortals. The excitement generated when he explodes out of an ‘apparent’ lull into creative madness reminds me of Manitas de Plata, much of whose work is sloppy, banal and uninspired, but whose great moments are so great, so unexpected, they rank among the most inspired the genre has ever known and is the reason de Plata is considered a remarkable flamenco guitarist.

Suffice to say, I now gladly count myself among those who can’t wait to suffer Bireli’s dazzle gladly.

If it wasn’t already a done deal, Señor Lagrene makes the definitive case for Smile’s immortality. It is nothing less than brilliant.
Listen HERE.



John Coltrane
Miles Davis
Thelonius Monk
Charlie Mingus
Oscar Peterson
Charlie Parker
Dizzy Gillespie
Wes Montgomery
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