Wawau Adler – I Play With You: Album Review

Gypsy Jazz for a new millennium – from a master of the genre, Wawau Adler.

Release Date:  10th June 2022

Label: GLM Records

Formats: CD, Download

Billed as “21st Century Gypsy Jazz,” I Play With You, the new album from virtuoso jazz guitarist Wawau Adler is something quite special.  Wawau is a long-time devotee of the great Django Reinhardt, and if you haven’t yet come across his heady mix of bebop, contemporary jazz, fusion and Latin rhythms, then all can say is that you’re missing out on something wonderful.  In fact, I’d go as far as to say that everyone should have at least one album like I Play With You amongst their collection and, if you haven’t got your taster of delicious Reinhardt/Grappelli-influenced jazz, then I Play With You is a great opportunity for you to correct that omission.

Born in Karlsruhe, southern Germany, in 1967, the young Josef Adler first picked up a guitar aged 8 and, by the time he was 13, he was proficient enough and confident enough to give his first concert.  He released his first album, Wawau Adler – With Body and Soul in 1991 and he’s now regarded as one on the greatest Gypsy Jazz guitarists in the world – a treasured fixture at Jazz Festivals all over Europe, Canada and the USA.  And in a genre that attracts virtuoso players like no other, that’s saying something indeed.  Wawau’s elasticated fingers cover every string and every fret of his 1940s Selmer 828 guitar several times over during the course of I Play With You; his playing almost literally takes your breath away.

And his band is a match for everything he does – Hono Winterstein on rhythm guitar, Joel Locher on double bass, Alexandre Cavaliere on violin and Denis Chang on guitar are all masters of their respective crafts and the sound they make together, whether combining deliciously to brew a rich, satisfying melody or exploring the outer limits of what’s possible within this most flexible of frameworks, is awesome. 

Wawau readily admits to being influenced by the likes of Wes Montgomery, Charlie Parker and George Benson but, overwhelmingly, it is the ghosts of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli, those pioneers – giants, even – of Gypsy Jazz that pervade every inch and every corner of I Play With You.  That’s nothing new for Wawau Adler, of course – his previous album, released in 2020 to mark the 110th anniversary of the birth of his hero, was Happy Birthday Django, and, stepping back to 2010, he and bassist Joel Locher celebrated the great man’s centenary with their Here’s to Django album.  There’s a theme here, and it’s a very worthwhile one.

It’s true to say that the listener will know what to expect from I Play For You, perhaps even before the album settles on the turntable.  But if that expectation extends no further than a readiness to be blown away by the virtuoso playing of a master guitarist and a band at the peak of their powers, then you’ll be in for a pleasant surprise.  The arrangements are inspired, with just the right level of attention paid to the melodies and plenty of space allowed for Wawau and Alexandre to solo and for Joel to stretch out – indeed, sometimes he stretches so far I started to wonder whether he has leather fingers!  There’s nice variety to the tunes as well.  Lovers of the sleazy and easy will be entranced by the wonderful Jazzy Populaire, the dreamy Manoir de Mes Reves, the sunny, tropical Martique and, probably best of all, the lush title track, especially during Wawau’s solo as he throws in everything, including the kitchen sink, yet never once loses sight of the tune’s wonderful melody.

Meanwhile, those who like their jazz looser and a touch more urgent will thrill to opening track For Leo, the deceptive Le Soir, the frantic For Holzmanno and, perhaps the most outright “jazzy” track on the album, What Is This Thing Called Love, a tune on which every member of the band is given free rein and on which Joel excels with some incredible bass adventures.  With closing track Chicago, there’s even a tune that everyone knows, although Wawau and the boys take it places you’d never imagine as they bring the album to its breathtaking finale.

With an album like I Play With You, it’s almost churlish to pick a favourite track, because every track has its merits with every performer, whether it’s Wawau knocking out yet another unbelievable solo, Alexandre reviving the true spirit of Stéphane Grappelli, Joel astounding us with what he can extract from a double bass or Hono keeping up a rock solid rhythm foundation for the sonic explorations of the others, taking his opportunity to shine.  But I’m going to pick one anyway, and my choice is probably the sublime Samois Sur Seine.  Samois is a beautiful small town, just to the south of Paris, near Fontenbleu.  It’s the town to which Django Reinhardt retired once his playing days were over and is also the birthplace of jazz singer Cyrille Aimée.  Coincidentally it’s twinned with the Warwickshire village to which I walked this morning but, far more significantly, it’s the home to an annual Jazz Festival, held in honour of the great Django.  As befits such a scenic river town with such a significant connection, the tune meanders and glides softly and with great respect – it’s the most melodic tune on the album, and I love it!

I Play With You is an album for aficionado and novice alike.  As I’ve already suggested – everyone needs a little Gypsy Jazz in their record collection.  Why not choose I Play With You?

Watch Wawau Adler and Alexandre Cavaliere play I Play For You, the album’s title track, here:

Wawau Adler Online: Website / Facebook / Instagram / YouTube

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