By Don Heckman
Ashland, Oregon. The immortal music of the great French Gypsy guitarist/composer Django Reinhardt was in the air Wednesday at a seemingly unlikely location – the Belle Fiore Winery. But it’s second floor open air restaurant, with vistas of rolling vineyards in all directions, was the perfect setting for some classic Django jazz.
And one couldn’t have asked for a more dedicated evening of familiar Reinhardt pieces. The music was delivered by the talented hands and fingers of “Pearl of Django,” a trio of superb players, each a dedicated performer of Reinhardt’s classic jazz.
The trio featured guitarist Neil Andersson, founder of the Seattle based group Pearl Django, and bassist Rick Leppanen, along with Siskiyou Music Project Artistic Director Ed Dunsavage. The players, each a prime artist in his own righf, were seated barely a few meters away from an enthusiastic audience. The closeness enhanced the effectiveness of the warm and appealing setting, creating a link between audience and players that further seemed to enliven the musical intimacy of the flowing improvisations.
Exchanges between Andersson and Dunsavage were especially gripping. The Reinhardt style demands a far-reaching, fast-fiingered articulation from guitarists who risk taking on the style. And both players did so with great technical alacrity and flowing inventive imagination.
A captivating program of tunes included a swinging set of familiar pieces from the Reinhardt song book. Among the high points: Tears, Nuages, Minor Swing, Manoir De Mes Reves (Django’s Castle) and Swing 42. All the names may not have been recognizable, but the familiarity of the melodies underscored the extent to which Django’s music remains a familiar element in musical culture.
Add to that, a few selections from different sources that found new life in the Reinhardt style. Among the titles: Black Orpheus by Louis Bonfa, Out Of Nowhere, The Jitterbug Waltz by Fats Waller and Ornithology by Charlie Parker.
It was especially intriguing to hear Dunsavage in performance at this musically rewarding event. His work as artistic director of the Siskiyou Music Project has placed him in a significant role in the southern Oregon music world. But he is also a fine artist in his own right. And jazz fans are urged to hear him in his frequent local appearances with his own impressive groups.