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Tag: stephane wrembel review

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.

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.

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.