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Tag: django reinhardt

Stephane Wrembel Unearths the Depth of Django Reinhardt’s Rare Classical Compositions

For the last several years, guitarist Stephane Wrembel has mined the Django Reinhardt songbook more deeply than just about anyone other than the godfather of Romany jazz himself. Wrembel’s Django Experiment albums offer uncommonly dynamic insight into how Reinhardt blended American swing, French ragtime, classical music and Romany folk songs into a style that would become its own musical subculture. Wrembel’s new solo album Django L’Impressioniste – streaming at youtube – is a milestone, a major rediscovery of Reinhardt’s rarely played and recorded classical music along with a handful of more famous tunes.

This is hardly an album that can be digested in a single sitting: the depth of Reinhardt’s ideas is vast, offering new discoveries with every return trip. The amount of time Wrembel must have spent transcribing and then working up this material is staggering. He first plays Improvisation #2 – one of the few numbers here that’s become part of the Django canon – with a sense of the fantastical, slowly and spaciously, a rapt vision of mythical beasts cavorting deep in the forest. There’s also a transcription of Reinhardt’s second take that’s even more lingering and suspenseful.

Guitarists typically play Reinhardt songs with a brisk, shuffling staccato, which makes sense since that’s how he played them; Wrembel’s resonant, thoughtfully legato approach casts this material in a completely new light. Case in point: the lingering bittersweetness of the 1937 ballad Parfum.

Juxtaposing alternate takes faithful to Reinhardt’s original recordings provides enormous insight into just how carefully he crafted his oeuvre. Back-to-back versions of a “solo improvise” from the BBC in 1937 reveal how much of a difference just a few judicious tweaks of rhythm and attack completely transform this music.

Likewise, there are two versions of Improvisation No. 3, variations on a gorgeously melancholy stroll, the second more stern and incisive. Improvisation No. 4 is the most severe until Wrembel picks it up with an unexpectedly jaunty bounce. Improvisation No. 5 is a pure, unabashed neoromantic ballad with Romany flourishes. The distantly flamencoish Improvisation No. 6 is the starkest, most nocturnal and aguably most cohesively compelling of all these pieces.

The intricate lattice of chords in Naguine foreshadows where Americans like Les Paul would take guitar jazz, yet it’s much more unpredictable. The flamenco-inflected vistas of Echoes of Spain are exactly that: spare and often utterly desolate. The epic take of Belleville, Reinhardt’s hometown shout-out, has strikingly roughhewn contrast, akin to Debussy through the rough-and-tumble prism of life on the fringes – along with what seems to be a playfully erudite study for an eventual three-minute hit.

A similarly expansive exploration of Nuages is all the more vividly summery for Wrembel’s unhurried, dynamically shifting interpretation. The details are devilishly fun: a hint of a bolero, an ambush of muted low strings, a flicker of 19th century Parisian art-song. And the only non-Django original here, Tea for Two, gets a hushed, tiptoeing treatment that really goes to the heart of that much-maligned (some would say schlocky) love ballad. Beyond the sheer beauty and scope of the music, this album has immense historical value. Wrembel’s almost-every-week Sunday night Barbes residency continues this Jan 19 at around 9:30; lately, he’s been opening the show solo and then bringing up the band. If you get lucky, he’ll play some of this material completely unplugged.

Avalon Jazz Band Fuel the Revelry at Symphony Space

On one hand, it was mystifying to see a sold-out crowd sitting sedately through the first three songs of the Avalon Jazz Band’s sold-out show at Symphony Space Thursday night. On the other, it was validating to see the group earning appreciation as a first-class jazz act. Too few swing bands get props for their chops.

This show was the second in a weekly series here called Revelry. Musically speaking, it’s the most exciting thing to happen to the Upper West Side in a long, long time. There were never many venues in the neighborhood to begin with and there are even fewer now. So Symphony Space is really filling a need by booking all sorts of artists who’ve probably never played this far north.

This Thursday, Oct 25 at 8 PM the venue has Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, a polymath on oldtime blues guitar, banjo and piano who may be the single most talented musician in all of New York. Ticket buyers 30 and under get in for $20, which is ten bucks off the regular cover charge. The downstairs bar stays open during the show and afterward; last week, ushers were grinningly handing out wristbands which entitled concertgoers to 20% off at the bar. All this is a different kind of return to the venue’s glory days in the late zeros and earlier in this decade when they were booking a ton of global talent in addition to the usual classical and jazz acts.

Last week, it was a four-piece version of Avalon Jazz Band. They opened with a charming, chirpy, playfully conversational take of the old French standard Coquette, frontwoman Tatiana Eva-Marie shimmying and teasing cartoonish riffs – and an irresistibly droll bass solo – from her bandmates. By the night’s third number, people of all ages were beginning to leave their seats and heading down in front of the stage to cut a rug. The snazziest dance moves of the night came from a couple who looked to be in their seventies, clearly old pros at swing dancing.

After starting in Paris, the singer led her quartet to Romany territory – Tatiana is half French and half Romanian – then to New Orleans and finally brought the music full circle. Guitarist Vinny Raniolo aired out his vast bag of riffs, from punchy Django Reinhardt swing, to warily resonant Chicago blues, fleet postbop and some eerie, tremoloing Lynchian resonance capped off with tremolo-picking that was sometimes fluttery and sometimes an icepick attack.

Violinist Gabe Terracciano showed off similar chops, from jaunty Bob Wills-style western swing, to airy Stephane Grappelli-esque phrasing, lots of sabretoothed Romany riffs and stark blues as well. Bassist Wallace Stelzer was amped pleasantly high in the mix, serving as the band’s Secretary of Entertainment with his wry sense of humor, the occasional tongue-in-cheek quote and solos that echoed the guitar.

The songs in the set were just as diverse. They’d played this year’s New Orleans Jazz Festival, so that was still on their minds. The highlight of the set was a brooding, saturnine take of Hoagy Carmichael’s New Orleans, with new English lyrics by a Crescent City friend of Tatiana’s. Her original, There’s Always a Moon Over New Orleans made a brisk contrast, inspired by the fact that when the band were down there, they never got up until after the sun went down. They mined the repertoire of Charles Trenet and Charles Aznavour for wistfulness, then went scampering up Menilmontant toward the end of the set. Afterward the crowd filed out to the bar, just as Tatiana – who by the end of the set had drained most of a sizeable glass of whiskey – had been encouraging all night. 

Stephane Wrembel Releases a Lavish, Charecteristically Edgy New Romany Jazz Album at Drom Tonight

Guitarist Stephane Wrembel made a name for himself as a stormy, erudite interpreter of Django Reinhardt, but his own body of work encompasses far more than that, using Romany jazz as a stepping-off point for his own distinctive ventures into Middle Eastern sounds and psychedelic rock. His lavish, dynamically rich, often poignant new double cd The Django Experiment is streaming at youtube. Disc one is mostly an imaginative mix of Django classics; disc two is mostly originals, in more of a jazz vein than what audiences get at his ongoing, legendary most-every-Sunday night 9 PM-ish residency at Barbes. He’s playing the album release show tonight, June 10 at 8 PM at Drom; hopefully by now you have your $15 advance tickets because it’s an extra five at the door.

The first disc opens with Nuages, Wrembel’s elegantly spare, resonant lines over Thor Jensen’s spring-loaded rhythm guitar, Ari Folman-Cohen’s bass and Nick Anderson’s drums. Wrembel takes somewhat the opposite approach with his tremolo-picking on the waltz Gin-Gin, then he and Folman-Cohen have fun working the chromatic edges of Bouncin’ Around, a close cousin to Brother Can You Spare a Dime.

Nick Driscoll’s clarinet spirals around and intertwines artfully with Wrembel on the jaunty Dinette. By contrast, Wrembel and Jensen max out the modal melancholy in a majestically spacious take of Troublant Bolero, up to a characteristically careening crescendo. It makes a good segue with the first of Wrembel’s originals, Windmills, a brisk, deliciously broodng waltz.

The band goes back to the Django catalog for a bubbly, lickety-split take of Place de Broukere, followed by the bucolic desolation of Carnets de Route,Wrembel’s moodily magical mashup of Django and Pink Floyd. The up-down dynamics continue with the coyly strutting Djangology and then Wrembel’s plaintively mined take of Sasha Distel’s Ma Premiere Guitare. Disc one winds up with Wrembel’s wistful waltz Jacques Prevert followed by a roller-coaster ride through Django’s Minor Swing. the bandleader channeling Wes Montgomery up to a mightily plucked bass solo and finally a stampede out.

The second disc begins with the epically vamping Douce Ambience. It perfectly capsulizes the confluence of Middle Eastern modalities and Romany swing that Wrembel first began mining around ten years ago, the guitarist’s understated unease in contrast with Driscoll’s relentless centrifugal force on soprano sax, Anderson taking it out with a long hailstorm of a solo. Viper’s Dream is pretty close to the Django version, with a little wryly bouncing Tal Farlow thrown in.

A waltz by Bamboula Ferrret benefits from Wrembel’s judicious, occasionally tremolo-picked phrases mixed into an attack that’s equally precise and resonant: all those notes don’t just vanish into thin air. Boston, another waltz, begins wistfully, grows more elegaic and then Wrembel builds a long, growling upward drive. Then the band flips the script with the toe-tapping shuffle Double Scotch, Driscoll adding dixieland effervescence.

Reinhardt’s midtempo stroll Tears reveals itself here as the source of a Beatles hit that Big Lazy likes to take even deeper into the shadows. Nanoc, which is Wrembel’s Caravan, opens with a levantine slink and slithers further off the rails from there. Then he makes a surreal juxtaposition with Django’s Louis Jordan-influenced Heavy Artillery, which is anything but. After that, Minor Blues is middle ground, more or less, Wrembel adding an understated intensity, part Wes Montgomery, part psychedelic rock, with a long, practically frantic sprint out.

Interestingly, the album’s best track isn’t one of the barn-burners but Wrembel’s slow, hushed, allusively flamenco-ish Film Noir. Raising the ante again, Driscoll’s clarinet infuses Songe d’Automne with an indian summer breeze. The final cut is the enigmatically balmy ballad Anouman, ironically the closest thing to straight-up postbop here. Over and over, Wrembel reaffirms his status as paradigm-shifter and one of the world’s most engaging, original innovators in Romany guitar jazz.

Irrepressibly Fun Cosmopolitan Swing from the Avalon Jazz Band

The Avalon Jazz Band’s new album Je Suis Swing – streaming at their music page – was made for swing dancing, first and foremost. It’s irresistibly charming, and cheery, and fun. The Franco-New York group mine a century’s worth of bouncy continental jazz sounds, from Romany guitar shuffles, to Belgian musette and classic chanson. The group’s musicianship is first-rate and fast; even if they didn’t have the winsome presence of singer Tatiana Eve-Marie out in front of the band, they’d still be a lot of fun to listen to. They’re playing this Feb 15 at 8 PM at Guadalupe Inn at the corner of Knickerbocker and Johnson Aves. in Bushwick; cover is $8. Take the L to Morgan Ave.

The album kicks off with the Djangoesque shuffle Menilmontant, Tatiana channeling the song’s wistfulness in a delivery that’s airy and sunny but just as crisp. Guitarist Olli Soikkeli’s spiraling, spiky Romany leads fly above the muted chords of fellow six-stringer Vinny Raniolo, augmented by violinist Adrien Chevalier and accordionist Albert Behar while bassist Brandi Disterheft supplies the groove.

Coquette gives clarinetist Evan Arntzen a chance to for some droll tradeoffs with Chevalier; Tatiana sings in English. She switches back to French for the brisk title track and its period-perfect 1920s vernacular; after a jaunty Arntzen solo, one of the guys takes a turn on the mic for a verse in French, guessing that it’s Chevalier.

La Complainte de la Butte has a bittersweet, waltzling lilt fueled by Behar’s turbulent chords; Chevalier kicks in a dancing solo. Tatiana goes back to English for their version of the jazz standard I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, recast as Romany swing with a blithe alto sax solo followed by more fiery ones by Arntzen and Chevarlier. Stompin at Decca is a vehicle for precision and raw adrenaline alike from Soikkeli and Chevalier. Darling Je Vous Aime Beaucoup, with its droll code-switching, sounds like a more over-top take on something by Charles Trenet from the 40s. C’est Si Bon outdoes pretty much every other version in the chipperness department; the waltzing instrumental Songe D’Automne makes a somber contrast until the band hits the turnaround and then swings the hell out of it.

Tatiana makes the labyrinthine volleys of lyrics to Le Soleil et la Lune sound easy as the band shifts between blithe and moody. They Djangify Sweet Sue, with some coy call-and-response between Tatiana and the band; their version of Rosetta a little later is much the same. Ironically, the album’s best song is the matter-of-fact, melancholy, pastorally-tinged Seule Ce Soir (Alone Tonight).

Their version of J’ai Ta Main (Holding Your Hand) is a study in dark/light contrasts.They reinvent Clair de Lune as a balmy but wary slowdance number with Arntzen’s nuanced clarinet balanced by Soikkeli’s highwire guitar work and Chevalier’s pensively soaring violin. The album winds up with Qu’est-ce Qu’on Attend (What Are We Waiting For?), a high-class party anthem. If you might be wondering how Avalon Jazz Band stuff a grand total of sixteen tracks onto the album, it’s because only a few of them top the three-minute mark. Quick, get back out there on the floor!

Adrian Raso and Fanfare Ciocarlia Blast Through Their Devil’s Tale

Hearing explosive Romanian brass orchestra Fanfare Ciocarlia relegated to the role of backing band is surreal. But guitarist Adrian Raso is a spectacular and eclectic player, to the extent that he doesn’t get overshadowed by the legendary Romany party monsters. Their new collaboration, Devil’s Tale, due out next month, is in many respects as noir as noir gets: it’s both the roots of noir and the cutting edge as well, along with a couple of more lighthearted, more pop-oriented tracks. Raso distinguishes himself as a bearer of the Django Reinhardt legacy as well as a searing soloist whose signature style draws on decades of Americana.

The opening track, Ulm St. Tavern is sort of St. James Infirmary transplanted to Bucharest – people have died in this bar. It’s a Kurt Weill-style noir blues theme driven by banjo and tremolo-bar guitar early on, the orchestra looming in and then receding, Raso peeling off a snarling slide guitar solo, the band speeding it up at the end although the song is over before it gets completely out of hand. It sets the stage for pretty much everything that comes afterward.

Swing Sagarese is the first of the Romany jazz numbers, the band adding a circus rock edge with a delicious handoff between alto sax and trumpet. The Absinthe-Minded Gypsy, another noir blues, opens with ominous banjo and a wash of horns, like a more ornate take on the Dimestore Dance Band, bristling with eerie chromatics and bitingly brief solos from banjo, dobro and tuba. C’Est La Vie goes back to spiraling, flurrying, wickedly catchy Romany guitar jazz, while Quattro Cicci brings in a high-voltage flamenco feel with a lush bed of guitars bolstered by the orchestra’s signature pinpoint, precise brass. After Raso’s done wailing, it builds to a big, anthemic stadium-rock outro.

Charlatan’s Waltz is more low key and creepy, like Beninghove’s Hangmen in especially brooding mode, a carnivalesque waltz with pulsing staccato horns, accordion and a judicously spiky Romany jazz guitar solo. The arguably most surreal number here is the title track, a Romany jazz orchestra doing Duane Eddy, or vice versa; Raso’s hammering, staccato solo over rimshot drums midway through adds both unexpected humor and suspense. Likewise, there’s both twistedness and drollery in the slowly swaying Leezard’s Lament, with its darkly rustic banjo, lingering slow-burn tremolo guitar, weird jawharp and samples in the background.

Both Cafe Con Leche and Spirtissimo venture toward Gipsy Kings territory, the first with hints of a bolero, the second more of a flamenco-flavorred tune. Birelli’s Waltz starts out as an elegantly moody theme and then warms as it moves into more straightforward guitar jazz. The album ends with the briskly marching, playful Django, with its gritty horn pointillisms and wry quotes from famous themes from across the ages. Fanfare Ciocarlia are at Webster Hall in the main room at 9:40 PM on Jan 12 as part of Globalfest.

Fun, Edgy Guitar Tunes from Isra-Alien

Israeli duo Isra-Alien – Oren Neiman on nylon-string guitar and Gilad Ben Zvi on steel string guitar – have a bristling, impressively eclectic new album coming out titled Somewhere Is Here. It’s just two guitars, no bass or drums, bringing a tight, sometimes flamenco-flavored, sometimes Middle Eastern-tinged bite to a generally upbeat mix of eclectic original songs without words.

The opening track, Schunah (meaning Hood, in the slang sense of the word) kicks off with a syncopated vamp and grows to a comfortably animated flamenco-spiked theme. Reah Tapuah (The Smell of an Apple), meant to evoke 1950s Israel, echoes the Grateful Dead as much as it does levantine folk. Eishes Chayil (Woman of Valor) is a stormy, gypsy-flavored new Neiman arrangement of an old Joseph Rumshinsky Yiddish theatre piece, followed by a mellow, stately, baroque-tinged love ballad by Ben Zvi

Tavas Hazahar (The Golden Peacock), an artsy rock song by Israeli composer Shem-Tov Levi, gets a bouncy, gypsyish arrangement. Neiman’s rather epic, Piazzolla-inspired Pnei Hayam (The Face of the Sea) develops from tersely contemplative, to a jazzy evocation of wave motion, to a series of warmly insistent dance themes. The album winds up on a similar note with a blistering gypsy jazz-infused medley of a hora, a brogez (the mother-in-law dance where both sides are expected to make peace) and a rousing freilach.

Fans of acoustic guitar music as accessible as the Gipsy Kings, as classic as Django Reinhardt and as cutting-edge as Stephane Wrembel will all find juicy nuggets here. Isra-Alien play the cd release show for this one at Drom on Nov 10 at 7 PM. There are plenty of $10 advance tix left.