To call Jean Baptiste "Django" Reinhardt the greatest European jazz musician is to do a disservice to his music (which transcended national boundaries), his playing (which helped turn the guitar into a lead instrument) and his influence (on Charlie Christian, Les Paul and B.B. King, among truly countless other greats). As his sometime accompanist Duke Ellington might have put it, Reinhardt was beyond category and beyond compare.
The guitarist overcame every obstacle to secure a place in the canon: Born in Belgium in 1910, Reinhardt was raised in a gypsy camp on the outskirts of Paris; he never learned to read or write. While still in his teens, Reinhardt survived a fire, which limited his use of his fretting hand to the thumb, index and middle fingers. And yet he was the most lyrical of guitarists, and on his greatest recordings — with Stephane Grappelli and the incomparable Hot Club quintet — his playing was as effortless as it was inventive. Made just a few years before Reinhardt's death at the age of 43, these recordings mark the last of Reinhardt and Grapelli's many collaborations.
While stark, romantic shadings threaten to overwhelm Reinhardt and Grappelli's versions of "Stormy Weather," "Manoir De Mes Reves" and "The Man I Love" on this disc, the Cuban-flavored "Peanut Vendor" — which cribs heavily from Louis Armstrong's 1930 recording — is one of their most joyous collaborations. Still, the partnership was been coming to an end: Bebop had been hard on Reinhardt; a Stateside tour with Duke Ellington didn't quite live up to its promise. He'd retire in 1951 and die two years later. This set of recordings is his epitaph.