Among nomadic peoples like the gypsies, the oral tradition is central to keeping a heritage alive. Customs, beliefs, stories and, of course, music must be passed down from one generation to the next, always honored but continuously evolved and updated as time marches on. With their new album, Attitude Manouche (available June 15 on Resilience Music Alliance – pre-order available now), the Django Festival AllStars carry on that tradition in their own way, as modern-day virtuoso Samson Schmitt steps into the crucial lead guitar role long held by his father, legendary gypsy jazz guitarist Dorado Schmitt.
Attitude Manouche reveals that Samson Schmitt has inherited those vital qualities, and brings them to a thrilling new take on the gypsy jazz tradition. The Django Festival AllStars reinterpret Django Reinhardt’s vision through a set of new music that carries forward their namesake’s vision in a way that both honors his legacy while giving them a thoroughly contemporary twist.
While the AllStars’ name represents a community of gifted artists who collaborate in different line-ups depending on the performance, the quintet on Attitude Manouche have forged a distinctive voice together as all are featured soloist which join Schmitt. Ludovic Beier is a renowned accordionist and player of the accordina, Pierre Blanchard a virtuoso of the violin and Grappelli prodigy, Dou Dou Cuillerier – scat singer and rhythm guitarist, and the only Italian – Antonio Licusati on bass: five master musicians with their own innovative voices within this storied tradition.
“We have a great passion for playing music together and for trying to create a new sound,” Beier says. “Every musician is different, but we’ve succeeded in creating a common music together that lets everybody express ourselves very well. That’s really important and also very rare.”
The title of Attitude Manouche reflects the fact that while these French and Italian musicians may not share Reinhardt’s Manouche heritage by blood, they all reflect that heritage in their souls. That’s abundantly clear in the set of mostly original music that makes up the album, which fluidly and spiritedly combines the gypsy jazz tradition with influences from modern jazz, classical music, other world music, and even film scores.
The latter comes to the fore on the album’s sole non-original tune, the main theme from John Williams’ Academy Award-winning score for Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List. The AllStars’ rendition not only moving renders an achingly beautiful piece of music, but pays heartfelt tribute to the gypsy people who were victims of the Nazi regime. “A lot of gypsies were deported to concentration camps along with the Jewish community,” Beier explains. “We wanted to pay tribute to that very dark period of history, so we decided to create an arrangement for that song mixing gypsy swing with Jewish traditional music, spearheaded by violinist Pierre Blanchard.” This track in particular coincides strongly with the mission of Resilience Music Alliance, founded by social and political activist Steve Ruchefsky, in celebrating the human driven condition of resilience.
The Django Festival AllStars’ eclectic and forward-looking repertoire reimagines Reinhardt’s pioneering sound for modern ears, and in that way, is a fitting tribute to the icon whose name they proudly bear. “Django passed away more than 50 years ago,” says Pat Philips-Stratta, who produced the album. “But I think if he was here today he would be exploring new fields and bringing them into his music. We add new experiences and new influences, but when the audience listens to our music they can hear Django Reinhardt’s legacy. That’s very important to us.”