Bireli Lagrene was born on September 4, 1966 in Saverne, Alsace, France. The son of Fiso Lagrene, a popular guitarist in pre-war France, Lagrene displayed a prodigious talent as a very young child. Born into a gypsy community, his origins and his fleet, inventive playing style inevitably generated comparisons with Django Reinhardt. In 1978, he won a prize at a festival at Strasbourg and subsequently made a big impact during a televised gypsy festival.
In his early teenage years Lagrene toured extensively playing concerts and festivals across Europe, often accompanied by distinguished jazz artists such as Benny Carter, Benny Goodman, Stéphane Grappelli and Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen. He also made his first record Routes To Django , which helped to prove that early estimates of his capabilities were not excessive.
An outstanding technician, Lagrene has revealed influences other than Reinhardt, happily incorporating bebop phraseology, rock rhythms and Brazilian music into his work. By the late 80s he had moved substantially from his early Reinhardt-style to fully embrace jazz-rock and other electronically-aided fusions.
Lagrene returned to his roots with such brilliant offerings as 1994's My Favorite Django and 1998's Blue Eyes as well as violinist Didier Lockwood's 2000 recording Tribute To Stephane Grappelli and last year's highly acclaimed Gypsy Project, which eminent jazz critic Gary Giddins hailed as “electrifying... represents his best work in years.” On Gipsy Project & Friends, Bireli burns a blue streak on the knucklebuster “Babik,” a blistering uptempo ode composed by Django for his guitar-playing son Babik Reinhardt.
Elsewhere, Bireli reveals his deep gypsy soul on the mournful minor key “Ou Es-Tu Mon Amour” and the haunting ballad “Laura,” composed by David Raskin and Johnny Mercer for the 1944 film of the same name. He oozes sheer joie de swingon infectious showstoppers like “Djangology,” “Les Yeux Noirs,” “Minor Swing” (catch Bireli's playful, tongue-in-cheek intro to that Django anthem) and “Artillerie Lourde,” reprising the buoyantly swinging spirit of the Hot Club of France alongside the remarkable violinist Florin Niculescu, who reads Bireli's mind the way Stephane Grappelli read Django's. Special guest Henri Salvador lends his velvety smooth French crooning style to the seductive ballad “Envie de Toi”.