Stephane Wrembel Rips the Roof Off Trinity Church
Stephane Wrembel is the most exciting thing happening in gypsy jazz right now, which is pretty intense since gypsy jazz isn’t exactly sedate music. His weekly Sunday night shows at Barbes, where he’s played for several years now, have become legendary. Tuesday the guitarist got the chance to perform for a completely different audience at Trinity Church and although it was only the early afternoon, he ripped the roof off the place – and was soaked in sweat afterward. This time out he had a quartet: Dave Speranza tirelessly walking his basslines alongside a rhythm guitarist who synched with Wrembel’s split-second timing and made the most of his single solo late in the set, and a percussionist who switched between a boomy conga and a rattling, rippling tambourine, which he played by hitting it with metal rings on his fingers.
There was plenty of improvisation, but that was limited to the occasional extra verse or chorus – this show was meant to air out Wrembel’s eclectic and absolutely brilliant compositions, several of them from his latest album Terre des Hommes. For a gypsy jazz player, Wrembel has an extraordinarily fluid, smooth legato style that contrasts with his usual relentlessly precise staccato attack. And there was a lot more in the set than fast flurries of minor sixth chords and shuffle beats: Middle Eastern and African themes as well as American jazz modes appeared throughout the songs, typically when least expected. The most gripping song of the set was a new one, Toute la Vie, a brooding, somewhat horrified slow waltz inspired by youtube accounts of the Japanese tsunami aftermath, and, one assumes, the Fukushima disaster. At the end, Wrembel finally went up with a searing tremolo-picked intensity, Japanese surf music style, before retreating to the wounded central theme.
Woody Allen is a big fan of Wrembel’s music. Wrembel had a song on the soundtrack to Vicky Christina Barcelona, and wrote Bistro Fada, the theme to Allen’s latest film, Midnight in Paris. He played that one – a jaunty, sly barroom shuffle – as well as another more expansive variation from the movie. A lickety-split later number was part Django Reinhardt, part Fats Waller, Wrembel soloing so fast that his notes blended into each other in the church’s boomy sonics, an effect that would recur. He built another song that rose from an apprehensive art-rock riff to crying, bluesy upper-register wails and then back down again. At the end, after another long, machine-gun interlude, he dug in and methodically chord-chopped his way to the top of the scale, his picking hand a blur. Those who missed this show have many opportunities to see him, including Saturday nights at about 8 Fada at North 7th and Driggs in Williamsburg, and Thursday nights starting around 7 at Bar Tabac on Smith Street in Carroll Gardens as well as in the cozy confines of Barbes, which get filled up very quickly since he’s an institution there.