On his debut album, Les yeux noirs (Water is Life Records), Django Reinhardt’s great-grandson Simba Baumgartner stretches the boundaries of Gypsy jazz, injecting experimentation and youthful energy into the genre. The 21-year-old guitarist finds the perfect accompanists in Stephane Wrembel’s ace band from last year’s Django Experiment III— guitarists Wrembel and Thor Jensen, bassist Ari Folman-Cohen, drummer Nick Anderson, and Nick Driscoll on clarinet and saxophone. The collection feels like a continuation of Experiment’s collision of reverence and innovation, but Baumgartner is no sideman here. He steers the direction with a muscular, almost grimy tone.
A cover of Reinhardt’s “Blues Clair” accentuates rhythm over melody. Jensen’s syncopated strums thread through Baumgartner’s slashing accents, while Wrembel chimes in with a flurry of dissonant notes ping-ponging like Morse code. On “All of Me,” Wrembel and Jensen’s fire alarm tremolo sets up a call and response with Baumgartner’s thick and clangourous picking.
Reinhardt’s “Nuages” gets two renditions here. On the first, Wrembel’s rattling rasgueado-style strum entwines with Jenson’s statelier harmonic run, while Baumgartner carries the melody down a twisting slalom. On the second, the melody line rides Driscoll’s saucy klezmer-style clarinet, bolstered by Baumgartner’s legato runs.
A swaggering cover of Django’s “Place de Broukère” is Baumgartner’s most radical take on his great-grandfather’s music. Here his slurred bent notes mimic the valves sticking on a blaring trumpet. This is Gypsy jazz with a rock ’n’ roll edge.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.