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Electric Side (Bonus Track Version)

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Album Review

Bireli Lagrene has been so indelibly associated with the Gypsy guitar style of Django Reinhardt since the early '80s, and has recorded within that well-defined niche so often, that only his most die-hard fans might even be aware that he has quite often ventured into electric fusion and other genres during the last couple of decades as well. But never has he ventured so far afield from his roots as he does on Electric Side. The title only hints at just how electrified this session is: this is a decidedly contemporary take, stacked not only with guitar and synth riffs that could have come off an old Mahavishnu Orchestra album but samples, scratching, and other trappings of the non-Django world. Just to throw another wrench into the works, Lagrene augments the guitar-bass-drums-keys-turntablist lineup with saxophonist Franck Wolf (who has worked with him before and provides several of the album's more incendiary moments) and Andy Narell, one of the foremost steelpan players in the world. Whether the album will sit well with an individual listener may have more to do with that listener's expectations than anything that's happening within the music, however. To be sure, these guys are virtuosi, and they rip it up here: Lagrene is well suited for these high-energy, high-volume jams, with their breakneck paces and unexpected rhythmic shifts. And while DJ Afro Cut-Nanga comes off at times as more novelty than essential component, it's easy to understand why Lagrene wanted him on a set of tunes (mostly self-penned, save for Herbie Hancock's "Jack Rabbit" and "Incertitude," written by Django's son Babik Reinhardt) intended to push his own legacy into uncharted waters. That said, though, there is a palpable and pervasive lack of soulfulness to Electric Side that is never felt when Lagrene does his Django-inspired thing or stays within the bounds of more straight-ahead jazz. His chops on the electric guitar are never in question, but other recent efforts like 2001's Gypsy Project and 2006's Solo: To Bi or Not to Bi are the kind of Bireli Lagrene albums one is more likely to return to long after this exercise in strutting is shelved with a shrug. [This edition features a bonus track.]


Born: 04 September 1966 in Saverene, France

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

When Biréli Lagrène's Routes to Django: Live was issued in 1980, the 13-year-old jazz guitarist was immediately praised by critics as a protégé of Django Reinhardt. He had already won a prize in a festival at Strasbourg in 1978, and his appearance at a Gypsy festival was broadcast on television. For the next five years, Lagrène would mime Reinhardt's style, even recording versions of the master's "Nuages" and "Djangology" on Swing '81. Over time, however, his role as a protégé began to seem limited....
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Electric Side (Bonus Track Version), Biréli Lagrène
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