50. Heavy artillery

Posted on 15/05/2017

30 Heavy Artillery

ThE phrase (Artillerie lourde in French) is the name of a song by Django Rheinhardt. He was the guitar genius from a gypsy background, who established the ‘Hot Club of Paris’ group in the 1930’s  and was one of the few European jazz musicians to be shown great respect by the US jazz stars of the period.

Military images are common in music, especially in rock and hip hop. I am currently listening, on my favourite FIP radio station to a moronic song called ‘Get it like you like it’ from a 2006 album by Ben Harper called ‘Both sides of the gun’.  Fip plays a wonderfully eclectic range of music, and they are allowed the occasional lapse(of which album title and music of this track are two). I mention it only to illustrate the ubiquity of gun and military images in certain areas of music.

Django’s song chugs along, rather than explodes. But his guitar playing, which features sudden bursts of strumming (like the drumming of Art Blakey, with his Jazz Messengers) is enlivened by his propulsive style. The song has been played by many other groups. I attach an original version by Django:

This comes from his less wonderful late electric guitar phase, but you can still hear him strum at the end of the phrases where there is a break in the melody. As you can see, and like Serge Gainsbourg, he was rarely without a cigarette between the lips as he played. But he had the force!

Here is the same song played by the Rosenberg Academy, showing on 2 guitars simultaneously the rhythm and lead guitar parts. The trills played by the rhythm guitar were played by Django at the same time as he did the lead, such was his skill.

For reference here is some real heavy artillery. Its rather amusing to watch them covering their ears as the gun explodes. One would have thought they’d have ear protectors these days.

By way of illustrating the idiocy that gun images can lead to, take the following Bond theme from Guns’nRoses. The height of ludicrous showboating: men in skirts and lots of screaming!

Less ludicrous but also far removed from either heavy artillcery or the art of Django is the Will.i.Am song ‘Bang Bang’ which uses the imagery of sudden attack to form into a love song of a sort.

Finally, here is a brilliant jam on the tune of Articllerie Lourde by Joscho Stephan and Herbie Tusek, full of clever allusions to rock guitar cliches in between the dazzling finger work.

It shows that a good riff can provide the basis for all sorts of excellent musical improvisation!


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