Florin Niculescu

SMOOTH OPERATOR — Romane

Most people in the United States have never heard of Romane (Patrick Leguidecoq), a classically-trained, Gypsy-Jazz and Parisian-style guitarist of the highest caliber. Romane is totally suave…as in GQ You Can’t Touch This suave. He was actually the first modern Gypsy-Jazz player I became interested in after a friend laid the Ombre CD on me 10-12 years ago. The music was a revelation! I still love the CD and have acquired a bunch of Romane product since then, including the two CDs featured in the right column where he partners up with another GJ master, Stochelo Rosenberg. (Of course you gotta be really good if you are going to play with Stochelo) Not only can Romane play with the best of them, for my money he is easily one of the best writers of this style. He’s not a guy to do a CD with 6 Django Reinhardt covers on it even though he can burn or make his guitar sing on any song that is thrown his way. I wish he would play the East Coast in the near future. He is on the list of people I would really like to see. Here he is with Stochelo playing Stochelo’s Double Jeu.

What fired me up when I heard Romane is how the music— the outrageous chords, sophisticated runs and blistering picking— doesn’t sound like anything this country has ever produced. It’s Jazz, but it isn’t, and because of the acoustic WHOOMPH! the music never sounds like that laid back, noodling stuff that many people think of when someone says the dreaded J-Word. What makes Romane so suave is that he never sacrifices melody and good musical sense for relentless chops and “out” playing that doesn’t seem to go anywhere. You probably wouldn’t want to throw his music on at your next classic-rock barbeque, but it certainly works for many other settings and occasions. You would certainly get the attention of any musicians present because not only are the songs and playing awesome, the music ALWAYS swings. It’s the hallmark of the style and it’s an infectious thing for sure.

There is a great variety of mood and intensity on Ombre and Acoustic Spirit. Romane can dazzle you with unbelievable stuff like Legendé, Gypsy Fire or the funky country twang-influenced Paris Nashville, and then cool you out with really mellow stuff like Selene or the every easy bolero, Monticello, which is built off of the following E7M9/13 chord. Give it a whirl on your axe and feel the magic. I can’t get enough of that sound. (The numbers are “open” “6th fret” “7th fret”. You can bar the “6” group with your first finger and play the “7” group with your 2nd finger as a bar or any combination of your remaining fingers).

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So… like what you’re hearing so far? Intrigued? Already trying to learn Gypsy Jazz and hungry for more? Not interested in playing Gypsy Jazz but perhaps thinking some of those licks and runs are pretty cool? Well you could buy this DVD…it’s chock full of info and demonstration and even though Romane does not speak English, the DVD does have subtitles in three languages and a small booklet showing the important stuff. I think he either did two versions of this instructional DVD or there was extra footage because it is packaged under different names at a few different locations. Some of the clips from this DVD are on You Tube, HERE. The embed option has been disabled so I can’t show them. This is not the whole DVD, but follow the You Tube links for the 3 chapters. The second set can be shown here but it has no subtitles. If you can follow along there is some more free learning to be had!

What I really like about Romane and all of the Gypsy players is that they are very generous with their knowledge and because they know so much, they are excellent teachers. The Acoustic Spirit CD shown above ships with the CD for listening and another CD that contains tabs and rhythm play-a-longs!! Who else does that? Seriously! And when I bought it at Virgin it was $14 or something. A total steal of a deal. If you are the ambitious sort you might want to add Romane’s L’Espirit Manouche to your collection. This awesome book contains every theoretical gem of an idea that you will ever need to be a pro guitar player in this style, or any style really. Though it offers no help with the very important picking technique, it does explore music theory and harmony in great detail while providing 14 of Romane’s songs as exercises and illustrations to the lessons. I do have to qualify this gushing with one criticism though and I really hate to do that but — There should have been a better translator brought on-board to help put Romane’s knowledge into English. The book is for an English audience and Romane has a virtual set of Encyclopedia Britannicas of musical knowledge in his brain. I am getting through it (a long off and on process) but there are sections that really try the patience of anyone attempting to figure out the major revelation that is supposed to be happening because the English phrasing just doesn’t make sense. Sometimes it takes 2-3 goes or I skip the writing and just work on the songs. I’m still glad I bought the book and the more I learn from it and other sources, the more comfortable I am with it because I can ignore the writing and focus on the music.

Romane is at home in pretty much any situation as these last two clips illustrate. Above, he is playing with a big band on his really cool composition Opus De Clignancourt. In the midst of some great playing he breaks a string and hilarity ensues. The one below is from his new CD/DVD, Roots and Groove and features his composition, For Wes. There is a stripped-down duet of Romane doing this song with Stochelo on You Tube and the whole 35 minute show can be found on the Gypsy Jazz Masters CD/DVD that is reviewed at the top of the right column on my blog. Of course anything that Romane and Stochelo do is brilliant, but the Roots and Groove band turns this song into a whole other thing and it’s really smokin’ in my opinion. Romane is using a Stimer style pick-up which is a good move with the band he has with him in this situation. They are hot! The club is obviously really hot too…they are working up a sweat!

While Romane is always attempting new things, like many GJ artists he has a strong connection to TRADITION. His father was a very accomplished guitar player and so is his son, Richard Manetti. {HERE is a clip of father and son playing together…talk about bonding!} Aside from the familial, there is also a connection to the culture of the Manouche and the history of jazz, two branches of music and culture that have been intimately intertwined for the past 70+ years. It’s impossible for me to watch Romane, Stochelo or any of the others and not think that they create an environment that gets real close to the original guitar hero, Django Reinhardt and The Quintet of the Hot Club of France, or even people from a much earlier time who have propelled this musical lineage forward through many generations. I hear that in much of Romane’s music and while it is always interesting and sometimes thrilling to hear or see A TOTALLY NEW THING, there is something comfortable and life-sustaining in music and art that doesn’t disregard and pays homage to the vibrant sound and caravan spirit that has entertained people for generations.

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Bireli Lagrene is Really Great!

This video was my introduction to the guitar monster known as Bireli Lagrene and from here I picked up his 2004 Jazz at Vienne Concert where he does a whole mess of great playing and has help from some of the best talent around today. This concert is really amazing and I know that word is thrown around a lot, but if you haven’t been exposed to this style or the people who play it, you will find this to be a real eye-opener. It’s almost too much to watch all at once as it goes for almost 3 hours and then there’s bonus footage. It is a testament, not only to how great the European gypsy jazz players are, but how super-duper comfortable Bireli is in any playing situation.

Not only are these guys so good musically, but they are also really fun to watch (like all of the faces Bireli is making in the video above). I went to Jazz at Lincoln Center a few years ago with a couple of friends to catch Tchavalo, Dorado, and Samson Schmitt along with amazing violinist Florin Niculescu. Their complete disregard for the Broadway showbiz rules was refreshing. Jazz at Lincoln Center can be a little, er, stuffy. But we had seats front row center and caught all of the mirth the guys were having onstage. Dorado and Florin spent the whole second half of the program sharing some joke that brought laughter from the first few rows, us included. To have a sense of humor and also have chops that put most people to shame are two of the best human qualities as far as I’m concerned.

Here is a video from the Jazz at Vienne concert with Tchavalo, Dorado and Stochelo Rosenberg doing the Django classic J’attendrai. Tchavalo played this at Lincoln Center and as soon as he started it — I got a similar feeling when I saw Buddy Guy, Johnny Cash, Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray or Jimmie Vaughan — you KNOW you are watching the real deal. He was wearing a white suit and played like a man possessed. Dorado Schmitt is also remarkable and he played guitar, violin and even crooned a sweet ballad for us. To watch Tchavalo, Dorado and Florin  trade chorus after chorus with each other was just fantastic. A woman sitting in the next seat said “I can’t believe how good they are!” and I had to agree with her even though I knew we were going to see good show.

I encourage anyone the least bit interested to get the Jazz at Vienne DVD, you won’t be disappointed. Any guitar players interested in this style should watch the top video repeatedly and pay attention to Bireli’s right hand. THAT is what people call Gypsy Picking and nobody does it better than he. He also uses standard alternate picking when the mood strikes him, but plays the Gypsy Picking most of the time when he is doing this kind of material. The DVD has him onstage for a many segments — with his Gipsy Project, in duos, trios or group jams like the following. Bireli is a guy who can pretty much do anything.

Here is another video from the Vienne concert with Bireli, Stochelo Rosenberg, Tchavalo and Dorado doing the jazz and GJ standard Them There Eyes. This is these guys doing what they have been doing since they were kids — having a gypsy jazz  jam — only here they are in front of thousands of people.