Magazine article The Spectator

Beguiling Mix

Magazine article The Spectator

Beguiling Mix

Article excerpt

Is there such a thing as European jazz? On the face of it a perfectly straightforward question but, like so many straightforward questions in jazz, there are no straightforward answers. Jazz itself has somehow eluded definition and, equally inscrutably, a European playing jazz does not always make for European jazz. While jazz may be a universal language, the dialect in which it is usually spoken is American. Yet in the Thirties, guitarist Django Reinhardt showed just how close the camp-fire extemporisations of a Manouche gypsy were to jazz improvisation within the context of the Quintette du Hot Club de France. The group stood out because their jazz was so quintessentially European at a time when everyone else's was so quintessentially American.

With violinist Stephane Grappelli playing ying to Reinhardt's yang, their boulevardier brio convincingly suggested that jazz could have a strong European component without sacrificing the elements that made Afro-American jazz so compelling and subversive. It was a significant moment, revealing that jazz was not an exclusive American preserve. Reinhardt was the first major European musician to propose an alternative to the dominant American style of jazz expressionism but, after his death in 1953, Europe marched in step with the Americans who thereafter tended to regard European jazz with the same sort of tolerant smile they reserve for Japanese baseball.

Today, however, the spirit of Reinhardt and Grappelli lives on in the music of Roby Lakatos. As a nine-year-old he listened to Grappelli recordings day and night, entranced as much by the violinist's liquid melodicism as by the sounds of the Quintette du Hot Club. Fifteen years later, Grappelli was asking if they could play together. Born in 1965, Lakatos belongs to the seventh generation of direct descendants of Janos Bihari, the darling of the Habsburg court whom Liszt and Beethoven called the `King of Gypsy Violinists'. It is that gypsy tradition that has been passed down the generations, and at the age of five Lakatos was playing in the family band. But he is no autodidact, graduating from Budapest's Bela Bartok Musical Conservatory in 1984 as top graduate of the year and winner of the Bela Bartok prize.

Later With Lakatos (Deutsche Grammophon) captures Lakatos playing live in Budapest, the character and individuality of his violin and the intensity he generates never obscuring the inherently romantic stance of his music. …

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