NOT EVERYONE thinks the violin has a rightful place in jazz. Then again, not everyone has heard Stephane Grappelli perform.
The celebrated Frenchman who founded, along with guitarist Django Reinhardt, the internationally renowned Le Quintette du Hot Club de France in the '30s, is featured on two new albums recorded nearly 30 years apart.
By far the more enjoyable record is "Violins No End," a heretofore unreleased collection of tunes Grappelli and fellow violinist Stuff Smith recorded in 1957. You could hardly ask for a more striking contrast in styles. Beginning with a loping blues arrangement of Duke Ellington's "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," Grappelli's performances are elegant and graceful, brimming with dancing melodies and a pure tone.
Smith, on the other hand, was more apt to saw his way through a tune. Sometimes he swings as hard as a saxophonist in a Texas jump band; other times his long strokes and darker, raspier tone underscore the emotion implicit in some of the ballads. Unfortunately, these duets were hastily arranged -- there's virtually no give and take between the musicians -- and almost half the album is devoted to a series of entertaining, if hardly memorable, concert performances by Smith.
Despite its shortcomings, though, "Violins No End" is a lot more exciting than "Conversations," a rather sedate fusion- esque collaboration between Grappelli and the Indian violinist L. Subramaniam. While Subramaniam wrote much of the material on the album with Grappelli in mind -- and Grappelli returned the favor by dedicating a rhapsodic solo piano piece to Subramaniam -- so much of the music is couched in softly shimmering electronics, you hardly notice Grappelli's presence at all.
STEPHANE GRAPPELLI -- and Stuff Smith, "Violins No End" (Pablo 2310-907).
L. SUBRAMANIAM -- and Stephane Grappelli, "Conversations" (Milestone M 9130). Grappelli appears at Blues Alley Friday through Sunday.