Featured artist: BIRELI LAGRENE
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.